Smash creator and former showrunner, Theresa Rebeck recently revealed some of the reasons why she stepped down as showrunner in March (replaced by Gossip Girl’s Josh Safran). Mind you lots of showrunners step down but hardly a single one speaks about it unles you are Dan Harmon of Community who left a shit storm behind him.
Side note – read this great piece by Stephen Falk the creator of Next Caller that was recently cancelled before it got on the air. He also gave some advice about women writers worth noting:
I will brag about something for a second, though. I can now say with certainty: if you ever find yourself in the position to get to put together a comedy writing staff, and then you complain that you can’t find enough funny women… Nay, if you already have a show on the air and you have like 12 guys and 2 women: you didn’t look hard enough. I insisted on having as near even as possible ratio of females to males (not including me they were 5:4), and aside from getting to be smug about it, it just makes for better energy and perspective in the room to have an even gender balance. Do it.
Smash premiered to critical acclaim and ratings success both which cooled by the end of the first season. Rebeck notes that she had a contentious relationship with the network about what her role was as showrunner. She felt she was an architect for Smash, but NBC begged to differ.
If they say, ‘Take the wall out,’ and you say, ‘I can’t take the wall out, the building will fall down' — but they don’t want to hear that! It turns into bigger questions about power and art, power and storytelling. Is power itself bigger than storytelling? And I would say no.
Beyond the overall trajectory of the show, the network fought Rebeck on character development, pushing for characters pursue paths that Rebeck felt were out of sync with the world she had created.
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. 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.’ 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 fuck with the muse—if you don’t fuck with the muse, the muse will stand by you.
Despite the obvious frustration and disappointment that Rebeck must have experienced with Smash (and the comments just touch the surface of what she went through), she continues to create. Her newest play, Dead Accounts looks at a Cincinnati family who is dealing with their past and stars Katie Holmes and Norbert Leo Butz. Dead Accounts opens tonight in New York.
Rebeck Redux: Smushed by Smash, Playwright Bounces Back with Katie Holmes-Starring Play (The New York Observer)