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

By Kenneth Jones
21 Jan 2013

Jennifer Hudson, a Season Two recurring guest star.
Photo by Eric Liebowitz/NBC

Pop songs were reimagined a lot as presentational performances in the first season. Will pop music be part of the second season?
JS: Absolutely. It does take a backseat a little bit because we have more original music this year than last year. As I'm sure you know, not only are Marc and Scott continuing to write amazing songs for this show, but we also have a group of younger, up-and-coming musical theatre writers writing some additional music, so we have a lot more original music. So the "covers" happen, but they only happen when they're organic. Sometimes there might be episodes without any, and other times, there might be episodes with more than one, but we really made sure this year to tie any pop cover to an emotion, and never just a stand-alone performance. Nobody gets up at a bar and sings, although I thought that Megan Hilty's version of "Crazy Dreams" last year was beautiful. We don't do that this year because we're trying to sort of maintain a more consistent tone in how the songs are used. So it's sort of more like [the films] "Pennies From Heaven" or "All That Jazz" in that it's sort of the internal feeling of the character happening in fantasy as opposed to just getting up and singing.

How did bringing new songwriters beyond Marc and Scott happen?
JS: I knew how much Marc and Scott were going to be contributing. They don't just write music for Bombshell, they write music for other musicals in the show this year, and other things as well. And, the feeling was, with Jeremy Jordan and Andy Mientus' [new songwriter] characters — Jimmy and Kyle — we definitely wanted a disparity in the sound. And, while Marc and Scott could very well — as you've heard in their music — write almost anything, the idea was, "Let's go as far apart as possible."

So the three of us, together, came up with this idea to go after these people whose sound is radically different and are basically a complete different vibe. But, occasionally Marc and Scott still do write music for those characters. It's not just this team of up-and-coming musical theatre guys who are writing songs for Jimmy and Kyle.

Can you talk about others? Who are they?
JS: Yes, of course. Joe Iconis, Drew Gasparini, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and sort of the wildcard of the bunch, Andrew McMahon, who has never written musical theatre before but he is a pop artist. His band is called Jack's Mannequin. Lucie Silvas is also a singer-songwriter whose music we are also using. She's not a musical theatre writer either, and her music came to me through Kat McPhee, who one day was just playing me songs that she thought were great and would be great for Jimmy and Kyle, and they were incredible…

I gather from what I've read that Frank and Ellis and Dev are not in Season Two, but you do touch on their stories. Do they remain in your pocket for the future?
JS: Yes. You know, Frank [played by Brian d'Arcy James] is in the premiere. Dev [Karen's boyrfriend, who slept with Ivy] and Ellis [the evil assistant] are both mentioned and dealt with. It's not like, as I said, we're trying to make it like this stuff never happened. As I said, Michael Swift is discussed as well. In my mind, the door's always opened. It is, in that way, a soap opera because it's an ensemble show with a cast of many characters, and you know theatre — somebody does a show, then they go into a pilot, then they come back to do a show, and suddenly they're back!

New York City is a major character in this show. "Gossip Girl" was filled with New York City. Do you, as a writer, have a wish- list of places you'd like to use? Can a setting dictate a scene?
JS: You know, for "Gossip Girl" it could, because part of "Gossip Girl" is about the amazing restaurants that these kids would go to — but here, no. I would say because this show is so centered around musical theatre, our set pieces are our musical numbers, so that comes first. And, yes, it's great to shoot in Times Square, and it's great to shoot in actual theatres. This year, we shot a whole bunch of them — from the Lyceum to the Belasco. That, to me, is the biggest joy. There's nothing like being, for me, in one of these theatres when it's completely empty, and I can see every detail. I can actually take the time to walk around and look at these incredible works of art. That's where the setting would come first — these theatres. Yes, it would be great to shoot at these amazing restaurants, but what really matters most is the music.

You have guest stars who play themselves in the coming season. I know Liza Minnelli is doing it. Is she playing Liza or can't you say?
JS: Liza is playing Liza. But others are not necessarily playing themselves. Matthew Broderick is playing Matthew Broderick. Rosie O'Donnell is playing Rosie O'Donnell. But Daphne Rubin-Vega is not playing Daphne. Jesse is not playing Jesse. So, it's sort of a mix.