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After the show launched to acclaim (and more than 11 million viewers), critics cooled on subsequent episodes of Smash — which saw ratings drop to 6 million by the end of the season. In March, Rebeck stepped down as showrunner from the hourlong series and was replaced by Gossip Girl executive producer Josh Safran for season two in April. (Four featured actors also were let go in the shakeup.)
According to Rebeck, things took a turn for the worst on Smash — about the making of a Broadway musical — when producers started urging characters to behave in ways she says didn’t make sense.
“One of the points of contention last year was that the network thinks they have the right to say to the writer of the show, ‘We don’t want her to do this. We want her to do this,’ ” Rebeck said in an interview with the New York Observer. “And I would sometimes say back to them, ‘She would never do that.’ And they’d look at me like I was crazy, and I’d be like, ‘Nope, it’s not crazy, it’s just who the character is.’ “
She added: “You have to respect who the character is. It has its own internal truth, and you can’t betray that. And if you don’t betray that, it will not betray you. There is this sort of sense that if you don’t f— with the muse — if you don’t f— with the muse, the muse will stand by you.”
Rebeck believed that a showrunner should have the ability to add to the foundation to a show, likening the job to that of an architect. Through her Smash experience, Rebeck noted that she and the network had contrasting opinions on what a showrunner ultimately has power over.
“If they say, ‘Take the wall out,’ and you say, ‘I can’t take the wall out, the building will fall down’ — they don’t want to hear that!” she said. “It turns into bigger questions about power and art, power and storytelling. Is power itself bigger than storytelling? And I would say no.”
As Rebeck told it, maintaining the showrunner-network relationship is tricky, but the execs who are good at it “understand that there’s supposed to be tension and respect, but a lot of them are just like, ‘Do it. You don’t own it. Just do it.’ That’s not a level playing field; you can’t have a true discussion. You just get a lot of money. Everybody has to make those choices. Absolutely everybody.”
In the lengthy interview, the established playwright also revealed that Smash didn’t originally focus as heavily on Midwesterner Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee). “People found her to be a very attractive character, so they asked me to write that,” she shared. “I was OK with it. I was like, ‘I’ve got that in my back pocket.’ ”
The new season of Smash sees the NBC series shifting from Mondays, where it had a strong lead-in from The Voice, to Tuesdays. The series, a pet project of NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt that he brought from Showtime, has added a slew of Broadway actors and more high-profile guest stars like Jennifer Hudson, Liza Minnelli and Sean Hayes.
Smash returns with a two-hour premiere Feb. 5 on NBC.
Lesley Goldberg contributed to this report.
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