STAGE TO SCREENS: Joshua Safran, the New Storyteller of "Smash," Talks About Season Two

By Kenneth Jones
21 Jan 2013

New Season Two cast member Krysta Rodriguez.
photo by Eric Liebowitz/NBC

One of the things that frustrated me last season was the sort of inconsistency of character from episode to episode. For example, one week the chorus kids were incredibly supportive, and it felt like family, and the next week, they were kind of hateful.
JS: [Laughs.]

I don't know if we chalk that up to capriciousness on the part of the youth of the characters or if that was just loose shepherding in terms of the writing, with all due respect to Theresa. Did you sense that?
JS: There were definitely some inconsistencies, which I feel is common, actually, in a first-season show, which is still finding its footing. Actually, it's usually found the most in shows that are not airing while they're still in production. "Smash" was a mid-season replacement, so most of the episodes were actually done being shot by the time they started airing. When you're airing while you're still shooting, you have time to go, "Okay, well the audience maybe didn't love that aspect" or "They didn't love that character as much as we'd thought they would." We're kind of in a vacuum here with "Smash," which has positives and negatives. Looking at last season, that's the good thing of me coming in, in Season Two. It does give me the ability to have hindsight, which maybe I wouldn't have had had I been here from the beginning and known all of the reasons that made those decisions happen.

So we did try to, actually, yes, keep people to stick to one tone this season. So, one of the things that was important to me, is to make it clear that the ensemble [of a Broadway show] is a good thing and not something that everyone is desperately trying to get out of. So this season, for instance, Bobby and Jessica — [played by] Was Taylor and Savannah Wise — are in Bombshell's ensemble; they are happy to be there; they are not angling to do anything else; they are not trying to step over people to get better jobs. They are sort of our Greek Chorus, and they are the friends of other characters, and there is a consistency to who they are throughout.

How aware were you of the first season's fan response and criticism ?
JS: Well, I was an audience member, so I was very aware. I had the ability to go into the writer's room at "Gossip Girl," when everyone always would talk about what shows they watched the night before, [and] everybody was watching "Smash." So we would sort of have the conversations the next day. I'm also online a lot, so I was able to read a lot, and there were some things I agreed with and some things I didn't agree with, but, you know, we really sort of tried to listen and intuit what we feel is sort of right because you don't want to listen to everything.

For instance, some people really love Will Chase's character, Michael Swift, and some people had some issues with the plot there, and I think Will is incredibly talented, and I think he was amazing on the show, although this season doesn't start with his character in it, you never know because I believe that television is living and breathing — the door's always open. And, I felt like sometimes you just need to put some time and distance between that stuff, and it can fix itself as opposed to just immediately saying, "That character never existed. That plot never existed." It's not like that. Julia is very much dealing with [what happened] last year. Even though it was a plot that polarized people, we're not going to pretend that it didn't exist. In that way, we are listening to criticism, but we're actually trying to turn something that was maybe polarizing to something that can unify people.