Smash

“Smash” Promises More, Will Inevitably Deliver Less

Smash

Photo Credit: YouTube | NBC

Fade in on a show with a hunger to be good, but a bad first season to forever weigh it down. It hopes the past will fade away, because as of this day, the Season 2 teaser is out, and “Smash” is moving on.

Oh, “Smash.” How many feelings I have about you. My affair with “Smash” began passionately, when I first heard the show’s ubiquitous might-as-well-be-theme song, “Let Me Be Your Star.”

Masterful. Without seeing one moment of the show, I was absolutely hooked. Then I saw the show’s first episode. I wrote about it in my “It’s K-OK!” column for the Loyolan (which you can read here), where I said:

“I can say with absolute certainty that “Smash” is pretty terrible. Yes, the music is fun, and it certainly has its moments, but make no mistake, it’s really rather bad on the whole. Here’s the issue, though: It’s still more ambitious and interesting than half of what’s on network television today. So should “Smash” be applauded as a risk or bashed for what it really is: a flop?”

As the season went on, there was just no way to respect its intention any more – the characters were half-baked and stuck in crappy plotlines, the original songs were inconsistent at best and the acting was all over the place.

“Smash” was supposed to be our adult “Glee,” a more mature show that didn’t fluctuate every time a new episode was released. Instead, we got an older-looking “Glee” that never recovered from all the problems of its youth.

So despite all the amazing casting notices (Jennifer Hudson! Jeremy Jordan!) and news of a new showrunner, I couldn’t make myself get excited about season two of “Smash.” Between its first season and far too many seasons of “Glee,” I’ve just been too burned by musical programs. (“Nashville” isn’t doing much to make things better, either – it’s consistent, but it’s also boring as hell.)

Still, I can’t help but be drawn in by the promise of Jennifer Hudson. And the trailer is really, really good. So we’ll see what happens. I’ll tune in for the first episode and see if they’ve fixed the problems. After all, “Parks & Recreation” fixed its issues after season one and went on to be one of the best sitcoms on television. And as I wrote in my column about the “Parks & Recreation” Problem (also available here), shows deserve a little growing room.

So “Smash,” I’m giving you a second chance. Let me be your fan.

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NBC

NBC Drops the Torch

Originally posted on NextGenJournal.com. For original, please refer to: NBC Drops the Torch – NextGen Journal.

NBC

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

There’s been a great deal of discussion since the 2012 Summer Olympics began about NBC’s broadcasting strategies, namely the tape delaying of events until primetime and some ill-advised promos spoiling results for the audience. #NBCFail is a common hashtag across the Twittersphere, and critics aren’t being kind to the network either.

In a conference call interview with reporters last Thursday, NBC executives Mark Lazarus and Alan Wurtzel fired back with claims that audiences don’t care about being spoiled and that the complaints weren’t representative of the viewing audience.

“We think it’s a very loud minority,” Lazarus said at the time.

Wurtzel also quoted a survey – that was taken by NBC, it should be noted – that 67 percent of viewers who knew the results ahead of time still planned on watching. Yet despite their defensive stance, they also apologized for a promo for The Today Show that spoiled results.

Clearly, NBC is in full circle-the-wagons mode, attempting to appease those who are angry but also defend themselves against the hordes of critics. What NBC executives don’t realize, however, is that the audience’s perception that they have botched the Olympics could prove to be the final nail in the Peacock Network’s coffin.

It’s no secret that NBC is suffering. They have been since the turn of the millennium, when the network’s absolute dominance in the ratings came to a screeching halt. As ratings behemoths like Friends ended, new shows leaned towards quirky critical darlings like Community and 30 Rock. Combined with a failure to produce buzzy dramas (gone were the days of ER and The West Wing), NBC primetime was hardly Must-See TV anymore.

Even in the face of slipping ratings in primetime, however, NBC was still dominant in two key areas: their morning programming and their late-night programming. Then, in 2009, NBC lost control of late night. Their long-planned transition in hosts of The Tonight Show – five years earlier, a deal was struck that Conan O’Brien would take the chair from Jay Leno – blew up in NBC executives’ faces as they struggled to have their cake and eat it, too. Leno was moved into a low-rated primetime talk show, while O’Brien struggled in the new, earlier timeslot. After attempting to move Leno’s show back to late night but before Tonight, O’Brien publicly stated that he wasn’t going to tolerate such a move, and he eventually parted ways with the network on incredibly bad terms. Leno took over Tonight once again, but the show’s ratings were much lower than before.

Fast-forward to 2011, when The Today Show’s beloved co-host Meredith Viera chose to leave, turning her chair over to less-beloved former news anchor Ann Curry. For a year, Curry struggled to connect not only with the audience, but with her co-host, Matt Lauer. In April of 2012, Today Show rival Good Morning America won the ratings battle by 31,000 viewers, breaking Today’s 16-year long winning streak. When Lauer renewed his contract, there were rumors that he had signed on again with the express wish for a new co-host. Sure enough, about two months later, Curry was ousted and new co-host Savannah Guthrie brought in. Adding insult to injury: in Guthrie’s first week, Good Morning America won the ratings battle again.

So it’s clear that NBC is now hurting in all aspects. Even where it formerly appeared invincible, the network has been proven mortal time and time again. The one thing that NBC can boast, however, is being the exclusive network of the Olympics. Every other year, NBC executives get hours and hours of advertising time to hype their new shows and boost old properties, all while America tunes in compulsively to watch superior athletes compete.

Right now, to get back on top, NBC would need a miracle – something that would force millions of Americans to do nothing but be exposed to their network for hours on end. Sound familiar?

It goes without saying that Americans would watch the Olympics no matter what channel they aired on, so NBC can’t really do much to lose ratings no matter how badly they butcher coverage. However, by irritating the audience, the only thing NBC is succeeding in doing is making sure their new shows won’t benefit from the endless advertising. Since NBC can’t even use their miracle to their own advantage, a resurrection for the former king network might simply be impossible.

Smash

NBC takes a musical gamble with ‘Smash’

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: NBC takes a musical gamble with ‘Smash’ – Los Angeles Loyolan.

Smash

Photo Credit: YouTube | NBC

The Super Bowl may be over, but for hosting network NBC, their big gamble happens tonight. At 10/9 central, the struggling fourth-place network will air the pilot for “Smash,” a new musical drama that has been in development for several years. Starring Debra Messing of “Will and Grace” fame, as well as “American Idol” runner-up Katharine McPhee and grand dame of cinema Anjelica Huston, the show is attracting a lot of buzz for being a very different kind of project for NBC.

The pilot has been available on NBC.com and iTunes for some time now, and after watching it, I can say with absolute certainty that “Smash” is pretty terrible. Yes, the music is fun, and it certainly has its moments, but make no mistake, it’s really rather bad on the whole.

Here’s the issue, though: It’s still more ambitious and interesting than half of what’s on network television today. So should “Smash” be applauded as a risk or bashed for what it really is, a flop?

Let’s start with a quick diagnosis of why “Smash” fails. First, the good news: the musical moments are actually pretty great. While one might wonder why McPhee suddenly can’t sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” her breakout song on “American Idol,” the other members of the ensemble, particularly Megan Hilty, are accomplished. Hilty is the only one who can act and sing in equal measure. The other principal performers, especially Messing and Huston, are hit-and-miss. Almost anyone who isn’t already a star in his or her own right on the show is borderline awful. Messing’s family might as well be played by pieces of plywood for all of their range.

Even the best actors are saddled with bad dialogue – Messing has to convincingly deliver a filibuster about revivals on Broadway rather than new material in the first five minutes of the episode, and the whole thing just arrives with a crash. Huston is chewing the scenery all over the place, which is a shame, because her wonderfully understated work in “50/50” was a highlight of the last year in cinema.

But the biggest problem with “Smash” is also one of its strengths: It is fully immersed in the theater world. Not the biggest fan of Broadway? “Smash” doesn’t really care about appeasing you – it’s going to continue talking about insider stuff, and expects you to keep up. That level of apathy for audience capability is rare to find on network television, but this isn’t exactly a cop show. If you live outside of New York City, some of this is gonna be flying over your head.

The nature of “Smash” is something more shows should try. So often, television series are weighed down by exposition to the point of never recovering fully – or they never catch up their audience. By the end of the episode, I already felt better about the show’s abilities to remain insider-focused but also attainable. The last song of the episode, “Let Me Be Your Star,” is an absolute home run, too. The finale was the only time I felt “Smash” could be a hit. But that was the end of the episode. It was just because of this column that I kept watching. Other viewers don’t have to stay tuned.

NBC was smart to release the pilot early – any fans that make it through the whole episode will be likely to stick around. As always, you can never count out musical theater nerds as an audience. After all, they’re the ones who keep “Glee” alive. But the next episodes just need to be better or else the show will never succeed.

Making such an ambitious, rare show is admirable on NBC’s part. However, the network just isn’t in the place to be taking such risks. More chances like this should be taken by CBS, the first-place network, because they can afford it. As far as “Smash” goes, it looks like NBC’s gamble just isn’t going to pay off.

Parks & Recreation

Television’s ‘Parks & Recreation’ Problem

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Television’s ‘Parks & Recreation’ Problem – Los Angeles Loyolan.

Parks & Recreation

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Like most college students, I’ve got enough on my plate to do without watching too much television. Hulu makes it easy enough to keep up with the shows I want to see without worrying about catching up on critical darlings far into their later seasons.

Of course, students aren’t the only ones who can’t get into long-running series very easily. The television landscape is becoming more and more serialized, and with that change comes less opportunity for viewers to follow a show that has developed its characters and backstory fairly thoroughly.

The problem with this dynamic lies in the programs that don’t quite hit their stride until later into their runs. No one, for example, would argue that the earliest episodes of “Community” are the strongest in the series, but those who tuned out when they got bored missed the show’s transformation into one of the buzziest among younger audiences.

However, no program showcases this difficult problem better than one I caught up on this past winter break: “Parks and Recreation,” the Amy Poehler-led NBC sitcom that, now in its fourth season, has never managed to land the high ratings it deserves. The show debuted in 2009 as a midseason replacement and something of a spin-off of “The Office,” NBC’s biggest sitcom hit, and was summarily ravaged by critics. The first season only lasted six episodes, but the ratings were, at the time, good enough by NBC standards to warrant a second season pickup.

As soon as “Parks and Recreation” returned to the air in fall 2009, the show had transformed from an ill-conceived spin-off to a fully realized program in its own right, filled with funny, realistic characters and heartwarming, hilarious plotlines. However, ratings quickly took a tumble even as reviewers continued to lavishly praise the show. By the end of the third season, the show finished 116th highest-rated show on television, behind series like “COPS” and “Skating with the Stars” – not exactly a good sign.

NBC continues to be in bad enough of shape where renewals for shows like “Parks” are far more certain than they should be, but eventually the low ratings will have to be acknowledged. While programs can do their best to draw in new viewers and increase their audience, ultimately the poor quality of the early episodes may forever keep shows like “Parks and Recreation” from being hits.

This is what I like to call “The ‘Parks and Recreation’ Problem” – shows that peak any later than their first seasons are doomed to a few low-rated seasons before their hardcore fanbases are disappointed by the programs’ inevitable cancellations. However, shows that peak early often flame out quickly (i.e. “Glee,” “Heroes”) stick around far beyond their expiration date thanks to their passionate media followings, even as ratings erode.

What is particularly unfortunate about “The ‘Parks and Recreation’ Problem” is it ignores the ability of shows to grow and wilt over time. Audiences are equally to blame for this – who else could be at fault for the continued success of “Two and a Half Men” over such celebrated comedies as “30 Rock” and “How I Met Your Mother”? After all, services like Hulu and Netflix make it easy to catch up, so there’s no real excuse.

The core of the problem lies within the sheer variety of how much programming is out there and an inability on viewers’ part to take on too many must-see series. Unless a series can strike fire in the very early episodes and keep stoking the fire for the first few seasons, it’s likely that network television will be plagued by “The ‘Parks and Recreation’ Problem” for quite some time.