Smash wasn't the smash hit NBC hoped for last season, but the show had respectable ratings behind its compatible lead-in, singing competition The Voice. Now it will do battle alone in a new Tuesday time slot (10 ET/PT) when it returns Feb. 5.
Bombshell, the fictional Broadway show about Marilyn Monroe it chronicles, has stumbled in its march to the stage, and in an early scene of the new season, the team behind it acknowledges that fans liked the music but not the "book," or story, an apparent nod to the real-life reaction to Smash, which has ditched several soapy personal story lines and characters.
New producer Josh Safran (Gossip Girl), who replaced creator Theresa Rebeck, denies any intentional parallel: "It still is the same Smash, maybe bigger, more music, younger in some regards in terms of our new cast members."
But fellow executive producer Neil Meron was less coy when asked how he dealt with the tendency of some viewers to "hate-watch" the show while mocking it. "Watching the series unfold over the first season and seeing the reaction…there were certain things that were written that I think made sense," he says, "and Josh addressed those issues. First-season shows need time to lock into what they are, and figuring out the mechanism is really difficult." One particular complaint-the ungainly scarves worn by Julia (Debra Messing)-was heeded. They've been banished.
Smash is adding a second show-within-a-show in Hit List, a grungier off-Broadway project that allows the series to add those younger cast members (including Jeremy Jordan of Newsies). At the same time, it's subtracted characters such as scheming assistant Ellis; Frank, the estranged husband of Debra Messing's Julia, and their aggrieved son Leo; and Dev, the now ex-fiancee of Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee), after he slept with Ivy (Megan Hilty), Karen's rival for the role of Marilyn.
Now that Karen has reclaimed the role, "It makes sense for the characters to be apart," McPhee says. "For awhile we sort of live in our little worlds and then we come back together.
Jennifer Hudson appears in a few episodes, including the season premiere, as a Broadway diva, and Sean Hayes (Will & Grace) and Jesse L. Martin (Law & Order) will appear along with Bernadette Peters, who returns as Ivy's mom.