The best new TV show of the season is on network television, and may not survive there. NBC's musical soap "Smash" is yet another case of a well-mounted show that is too smart to be populist and too expensive not to be. What inevitably occurs if a show like this doesn't catch fire with audiences is that the network starts to dumb it down in an effort to reach more viewers. This rarely works.
Theresa Rebeck's behind-the-scenes look at a Broadway musical in the making ("Marilyn") reminds me of that great "A Chorus Line" doc, "Every Little Step." It boasts Debra Messing as a writer, Anjelica Huston as a producer and Jack Davenport ("Pirates of the Caribbean") as a director, plus a sexy young cast who can sing and dance (Kat McPhee and Megan Hilty are duking it out to play Monroe), terrific songs (by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) and plenty of backstage intrigue. Of course it requires that you like musicals.
Fortunately, things are looking up in the ratings as of the fourth show. Vulture's Joe Adalian writes that "Smash" is not only getting a boost from lead-in "The Voice" but:
"There are also early signs, according to NBC insiders, that suggest Smash is doing particularly well with high-income viewers — a group advertisers pay a premium to reach, given their added purchasing power."
Look at what happened to NBC's "Prime Suspect" and ABC's "Pan Am," two floundering network shows that showed increasing panic as they kept trying to find the happy medium between sharp storytelling and accessible entertainment. One was shut down; both are still in limbo (word is "Pan Am" may end up on cable, which couldn't be a better outcome).
On cable at least, intelligence is a badge of honor. Which is why, post-Oscars and "Downton Abbey," I am happily back to catching up on both AMC's "The Walking Dead" (see Terry Curtis Fox's Sunday night TOH reviews) and FX's "Justified," two of the best-written shows on TV right now.