I'm sure this must be how doctors feel when they watch Grey's Anatomy. Or police detectives when they watch Castle. There have now been five outings of NBC's new (hit?) show Smash -- the fifth episode aired last night at 10 p.m. on NBC -- and as a theatre professional, all I can say is "That is so not how it happens." I'll give the show points for trying to be insider-y, by dropping names that no one outside of a 20 block radius in Manhattan would know, or having cameos from people no one cares about, like REAL Broadway producers. But aside from that, they are just misleading the public on the way Broadway or theatre in general works.
The biggest overall "Come on! Seriously?" issue I have with the show is also the one that I can't really fault them for. It is the speed with which "Marilyn: The Musical," the fictional musical within the series, is getting off the ground. Theatre time frames are a lot like geological time frames in that if you are given a date that a theatrical event might happen, you have to accept that the margin of error is plus or minus 1,000 years.
They say the average time it takes for a musical to make it from conception to the Broadway stage is about 9 years. The only reason the creators of Smash are blatantly disregarding this fact is because there would be nothing for the characters to do for large stretches of time (like multiple seasons) if they were going for accuracy.
That being said, the issue is pretty major when it comes to believability. There's not a producer on earth who would go into rehearsals for a workshop on a musical that by episode 3 has "8 songs and half a book" written.
Most producers won't even touch a musical until it has been through multiple drafts. In this day and age, producers want to see a musical up on its feet in front of an audience before they will even consider "producing" it. This is why so many shows try their luck at festivals like the Fringe or the NYMF or regionally in hopes of getting a Broadway producer attached to their project.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to theatrical fallacies on Smash.
In last week's episode, Megan Hilty's actress character Ivy and Christian Borle's composer Tom are enjoying lunch IN THE MIDDLE OF TIMES SQUARE! I don't mean to come off like a New York snob, but no self-respecting New Yorker would willingly choose to hang out in tourist central in the middle of an afternoon. If real theatre people wanted to enjoy lunch al fresco, they would have wandered a couple blocks north to Worldwide Plaza.
Katharine McPhee's character Karen Cartwright has terrible instinct when it comes to audition material. Girls, if you're auditioning for the role of Marilyn Monroe -- in a musical that presumably takes place for the most part in the 1950s -- Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" is a wildly inappropriate song choice. The creative team of the real Marilyn musical would most likely write bitchy comments on her resume and send her away, but in TV world, Karen get's a callback and almost snags the role.
Assistants just assist. Tom's possibly evil, definitely omnipresent assistant Ellis, played by Jaime Cepero, was sitting in on the auditions in the pilot episode. Since then, Ellis has been present for every rehearsal, creative meeting and writing session. I realize that they're trying to set him up for a major conflict later in the season, but if we're being honest, a musical theatre composer has no need for a full-time assistant. Ellis's real responsibilities wouldn't span beyond keeping Tom organized and photocopying music.
I'm not saying any of this makes for bad television, and there are certain things Smash gets right. For example, there was a failed attempt at a Marilyn Monroe musical, which might give potential investors pause. Straight directors do have a tendency to sleep with their actresses. In the pilot episode, (real) New York Post theatre columnist Michael Riedel casually writes that Tom and Julia's current (fake) hit musical Heaven on Earth, has a terrible title. That is totally true.
I just wanted to point out to people unfamiliar with the inner-workings of theatre that Smash is no more realistic than CBS's Two Broke Girls being able to afford an apartment that has back yard. That they can fit a horse in. If you're looking for a more accurate depiction of a life in the theatre, check out the web comedy series Submissions Only by Broadway talent Kate Wetherhead and Andrew Keenan-Bolger. It might be less soapy than Smash, but it's absurdities are much more authentic.