iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Chris Harnick

GET UPDATES FROM Chris Harnick
 

'Smash' Ratings Drop: What Went Wrong With NBC's Musical Drama

Posted: 03/06/2013 4:25 pm

I just looked at the "Smash" ratings and sighed. How did the show that a little over a year ago once captured 11.4 million viewers and a 3.8 rating in the coveted 18-49 demographic fall so far to 2.6 million viewers and a 0.7 rating?

"Smash" had a wonderful pilot. It was well-paced and had just the right amount of story and musical numbers. There was a ton of buzz around it after press saw the pilot back in May 2011. Yes, May 2011. It made sense that NBC decided to hold the show until midseason so the writers could refine the story and so all the original songs could be massaged into greatness -- the majority of those songs are so good. But ultimately, that delay hurt the show.

"Smash" debuted almost a year after initial screenings and because the majority of the show was produced in a bubble, the creators had no idea what would click and what wouldn't with the viewers. During the lag, there was heaps of promotion from the network and the press and with all the hype came backlash, which is expected. Eventually, this all lead to that wonderful hate-watching so many viewers indulged in. Heck, I got in on it too. Some of the first season was so bad it was great to watch and make fun of. There were even more problems behind the scenes, many of which have been detailed across various outlets. This one from BuzzFeed, while full of anonymous sources, paints what seems to be an accurate picture of the turmoil behind the scenes of Season 1.

Throughout its first season, "Smash" had relatively OK numbers ... at least by NBC standards. Its renewal wasn't much of a surprise and after that finale, I was back in. OK, really after the finale song, "Don't Forget Me," I was back in. Never underestimate the power of Katharine McPhee's voice to sway a gay man. The musical numbers are often the saving grace of the show. I'm quick to go on iTunes and purchase the songs, but often times, the show only gives us one grand musical number.

The first season ended in May and again, viewers were forced to wait nine months for new episodes. "Smash" was stripped of its musical powerhouse lead-in "The Voice" and shuffled off to Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on NBC. The wait time has been "Smash's" biggest enemy. There is no way to keep momentum going. Yes, the show needs time to create those musical numbers that are the best part of watching. If "Smash" was done in a cable model and had 8-10 episodes, the show would have had to reel in the absurd subplots, basically trim all the unnecessary fat that everybody complained about. There would have never been the Dev affair subplot, so much Ellis scheming, Leo, adoption, affairs and everything else viewers loved to hate.

When it returned with low-rated new comedies "Go On" and "The New Normal" as its lead-ins, "Smash" poked fun at all its drama. Debra Messing's character was originally written by series creator Theresa Rebeck to be her, so once she left and all the stories about what a nightmare she supposedly was leaked, the writers took pot shots and made several *wink wink nudge nudge* references at itself. It was a sign that "Smash" maybe wasn't going to take itself so seriously and embrace the absurdity.

Yet things didn't change under the leadership of new showrunner Josh Safran and his new team of writers. "Smash" is still sloppy, over the top in a bad way and perhaps too ambitious for its own good. We have Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty, one of the bright spots in a show full of laughable performances from stage and screen veterans) starring in a new show, Karen (Katharine McPhee) developing a new musical while also starring in a show, and some new, very flat, one-dimensional characters. Yep, new, younger characters were added in Season 2 and have only brought it down. In between all that, there's drama with the writers, producers, random forced romance and fantasy musical numbers peppered throughout. I'm all for lavish musical numbers that are really just dreams/what the characters are feeling, but "Smash" is trying to be everything -- the romance, the drama, the comedy -- and it's only accomplishing being bad. "Smash" is often jamming half a dozen storylines at viewers about characters the audience is just expected to care about even though they've never really been properly developed. The efforts to retool the show have only backfired, but because the show is already filming what will likely be the series finale, there's no way to really change what's not working.

"Must see TV" should be because the show is good, not because it's a train wreck you can't look away from. "Smash" was never able to:

  1. Keep up the drama/pace set by the pilot. Thank the whole "Ivy is Marilyn. No Karen is Marilyn. No, it's Ivy. Nope, Karen. Or is it ..." that continues to plague the series.

  2. Fully embrace the absurdity once it realized it wasn't living up to the drama promised.

  3. Define its characters in realistic manner that respected the viewer.

All that said, I'll be watching. Call me loyal, a glutton for punishment, or whatever else you want, but for every five eye rolls, there's at least one great "Wow!" musical number to offset them.

Is there a 4, 5, 6? Tell me, where do you think "Smash" faltered?

"Smash" airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EST on NBC.

Loading Slideshow...
  • "666 Park Avenue"

    <strong>"666 Park Ave.," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/16/666-park-avenue-canceled_n_2147290.html">ABC pulled the plug</a> on this supernatural drama earlier in the season.

  • "The Bachelor"

    <strong>"The Bachelor," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: While ratings may have dropped, "The Bachelor" will likely see another season on ABC as tabloids and viewers still care about the comings and goings of contestants.

  • "Body of Proof"

    <strong>"Body of Proof," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: ABC is keen on this Dana Delany drama, but the ratings for the show's third season couldn't save it.

  • "Castle"

    <strong>"Castle," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: Strong ratings and a dedicated viewership keep "Castle" on the schedule.

  • "Dancing With the Stars"

    <strong>"Dancing With the Stars," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Likely to be renewed <strong>Why</strong>: The series is hurting in the ratings ... by "DWTS" standards. It's still a strong player for ABC, but the new season hasn't premiered yet.

  • "Don't Trust The B---- In Apt. 23"

    <strong>"Don't Trust The B---- In Apt. 23," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/22/apartment-23-canceled-dont-trust-the-b_n_2528858.html">ABC pulled the low-rated comedy</a> from it schedule and the stars took to Twitter to announce the cancellation.

  • "Family Tools"

    <strong>"Family Tools," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: This ABC comedy had a May 1 premiere date and that was the first of many bad signs.

  • "Grey's Anatomy"

    <strong>"Grey's Anatomy," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: America still loves McDreamy and the goings on at <s>Seattle Grace</s> Grey Sloan Memorial.

  • "Happy Endings"

    <strong>"Happy Endings," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: Always the bubble show, never the surefire renewal hit. "Happy Endings" has suffered from many ratings ailments, including bad scheduling (<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/14/happy-endings-friday-abc_n_2683091.html">it moved to Friday night</a>) and lack of promo. But this ahmahzing show has some serious fans that are determined to keep it around on another network (a la "Cougar Town.")

  • "How To Live With Your Parents (For The Rest Of Your Life)"

    <strong>"How To Live With Your Parents (For The Rest Of Your Life)," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: The ABC comedy starring Sarah Chalke had a late midseason debut and though its ratings were decent, it still couldn't save the comedy.

  • "Last Man Standing"

    <strong>"Last Man Standing," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: Viewers still love Tim Allen and the show has been performing well on Friday nights.

  • "Last Resort"

    <strong>"Last Resort," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/16/last-resort-canceled-abc_n_2147316.html">ABC killed the Shawn Ryan drama</a> in late 2012.

  • "Malibu Country"

    <strong>"Malibu Country," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: "Malibu Country" had been performing well on Friday nights, but the ratings took a dip and there was also showrunner switches that are never a good.

  • "The Middle"

    <strong>"The Middle," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: Now in its fourth season, "The Middle" is still pulling in more than 8 million viewers an episode as the anchor of ABC's Wednesday comedies.

  • "Mistresses"

    <strong>"Mistresses," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Too soon to tell <strong>Why</strong>: The drama, which is based on the UK series of the same name, just got a Monday, May 27 premiere date. Though the scheduling struggle doesn't bode well, the ABC drama does have Alyssa Milano and "Lost" alum Yunjin Kim leading the foursome.

  • "Modern Family"

    <strong>"Modern Family," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: A fan favorite and Emmy darling, "Modern Family" will be back and will make ABC lots of money in syndication.

  • "Nashville"

    <strong>"Nashville," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: Critical acclaim doesn't always equate to rating success, but ABC still believes in this Connie Britton-fronted drama despite the numbers.

  • "The Neighbors"

    <strong>"The Neighbors," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: One of the few "hits" of the season, "The Neighbors" has found an audience and kept it pretty steadily week after week (<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/11/abc-shows-fall-tv-2012-2013_n_1581796.html">much to our dismay</a>).

  • "Once Upon a Time"

    <strong>"Once Upon a Time," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: A ratings hit in its second season, "Once Upon a Time" will be back for a third season full of fairytale adventures.

  • "Private Practice"

    <strong>"Private Practice," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Ended <strong>Why</strong>: The "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff said goodbye in January 2013.

  • "Red Widow"

    <strong>"Red Widow," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: The show had a late February debut on ABC and the ratings were abysmal.

  • "Revenge"

    <strong>"Revenge," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: "Revenge" has fallen out of critical favor and seen lower ratings in its new Sunday night home. Though it lost its creator Mike Kelley as the showrunner, it will return for a third season, considering the sad state of ABC's dramas.

  • "Rookie Blue"

    <strong>"Rookie Blue," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: The Canadian co-production will return for a fourth season on ABC during the summer of 2013.

  • "Scandal"

    <strong>"Scandal," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: Shonda Rhimes has another hit on her hands. Now in its second season, "Scandal" has benefited from word-of-mouth and has been rising in the ratings (even recently beating out its lead in "Grey's Anatomy"). A likable star -- Kerry Washington -- and continued buzz keep "Scandal" on the schedule.

  • "Suburgatory"

    <strong>"Suburgatory," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: The series started Season 2 off strong in the ratings, but its audience has slowly eroded. Still, the show will be back for a third season.

  • "Zero Hour"

    <strong>"Zero Hour," ABC</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: The Anthony Edwards vehicle debuted to 6.3 million viewers with a 1.3 rating in the key 18-49 demographic, making it <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/15/zero-hour-ratings_n_2695800.html">the least-watched premiere for a scripted series in ABC's history</a>. Things only got worse from there.

  • "2 Broke Girls"

    <strong>"2 Broke Girls," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: CBS renewed "2 Broke Girls" in March of 2013.

  • "The Amazing Race"

    <strong>"The Amazing Race," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: As an Emmy and fan favorite, "The Amazing Race" has been a strong player for CBS.

  • "The Big Bang Theory"

    <strong>"The Big Bang Theory," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: Now in its sixth season, "Big Bang" is reaching series-high ratings. Even up against reality powerhouse "American Idol," "The Big Bang Theory" has been delivering with crazy high numbers in the 18-49 demographic, beating out what was once Fox's juggernaut.

  • "Blue Bloods"

    <strong>"Blue Bloods," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: The Tom Selleck-fronted police drama is a strong ratings performer for CBS on Fridays.

  • "Criminal Minds"

    <strong>"Criminal Minds," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: As one of CBS's strong procedural players, the series has been steady in the ratings and will likely be renewed to help anchor a night and launch a new drama.

  • "CSI"

    <strong>"CSI," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: Of the two "CSI" shows on the air, "CSI" is the stronger player in the TV landscape. The show is nowhere near its earlier ratings, but Ted Danson signed on for more and the show will be back.

  • "CSI: NY"

    <strong>"CSI: NY," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: The ratings from this "CSI" spinoff have faded over the years.

  • "Elementary"

    <strong>"Elementary," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: One of the very few freshman series hits during the 2012-2013 TV season, CBS is very keen on this modern-day take on Sherlock Holmes. The audience has been steady and the network even gave it the post-Super Bowl timeslot.

  • "Golden Boy"

    <strong>"Golden Boy," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: CBS certainly has a handsome star at the front of this cop drama, but its late season entry hinted toward CBS's confidence in the show.

  • "The Good Wife"

    <strong>"The Good Wife," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: A former ratings champ, "The Good Wife" has slipped to series low ratings on Sunday nights. Blame football overrun, fan-detested storylines or too many guest stars, but "The Good Wife" has star power and critical praise, plus its nearing a good syndication sweet spot.

  • "Hawaii Five-0"

    <strong>"Hawaii Five-0," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: In March, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/27/the-good-wife-renewed-season-5_n_2965829.html" target="_hplink">CBS announced "Hawaii Five-0" received an early renewal along with several of its other popular programs</a>.

  • "How I Met Your Mother"

    <strong>"How I Met Your Mother," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: CBS handed out a ninth and final season to this comedy with the entire cast returning. Expect to meet the mother, finally.

  • "Made In Jersey"

    <strong>"Made In Jersey," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: CBS pulled the plug on this legal drama very early on in the season because of low ratings.

  • "The Mentalist"

    <strong>"The Mentalist," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: "The Mentalist" has fallen to mediocre ratings -- by CBS standards -- but it was nonetheless renewed in March of 2013.

  • "Mike & Molly"

    <strong>"Mike & Molly," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: The ratings are down a little bit from last year, but Melissa McCarthy's star continues to rise.

  • "NCIS"

    <strong>"NCIS," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: CBS reached a deal with series star Mark Harmon in early 2013, keeping the No. 1 show in America around for a Season 11.

  • "NCIS: LA"

    <strong>"NCIS: LA," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: Viewers love their "NCIS," in any form. The ratings have been strong and the network is producing a backdoor spinoff pilot for this spinoff show. A full night of "NCIS" could be in CBS's future.

  • "Partners"

    <strong>"Partners," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: Low ratings and unfavorable reviews led to the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/16/partners-canceled-cbs_n_2145832.html">early demise</a> of this CBS comedy.

  • "Person of Interest"

    <strong>"Person of Interest," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: The series has developed a nice-sized audience, bigger than its first season.

  • "Rules of Engagement"

    <strong>"Rules of Engagement," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: This comedy has been on the bubble since it premiered ... yet it made it to Season 7. It's finally time to say goodbye.

  • "Survivor"

    <strong>"Survivor," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: A strong player for the last 13 years, "Survivor" will be back. But due to its <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/14/survivor-ratings-lowest-premiere-ever_n_2687591.html">most recent premiere ratings</a>, we might not see it during the fall season, though a midseason or summer return -- with some new gimmick -- is definitely in the cards for the reality series.

  • "Two and a Half Men"

    <strong>"Two and a Half Men," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: CBS always wanted another season of this bawdy hit, it was just a matter of getting its stars to sign back on. Though Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher will be back for a Season 11, the "half" man Angus T. Jones remains up in the air.

  • "Undercover Boss"

    <strong>"Undercover Boss," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Renewed <strong>Why</strong>: The show is enjoying life in syndication and its Season 4 numbers are better than most of its third season.

  • "Unforgettable"

    <strong>"Unforgettable," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Uncanceled <strong>Why</strong>: CBS canceled the Poppy Montgomery drama last season ... and then revived it! Season 2 premieres Sunday, July 28.

  • "Vegas"

    <strong>"Vegas," CBS</strong> <strong>Status</strong>: Canceled <strong>Why</strong>: Despite star power, the series wasn't a breakout hit in the ratings. CBS previously canceled "Unforgettable" (then uncanceled it) last season when it was doing about the same as "Vegas."

 

Follow Chris Harnick on Twitter: www.twitter.com/chrisharnick

FOLLOW TV