The show that everyone wanted to love — and everyone loved to hate — is back. And guess what? It’s good. This week, Entertainment Weekly gets an exclusive inside look at NBC’s ambitious overhaul of their musical drama, Smash. (Click here to buy the issue.) There’s a lot riding on it for a lot of people, first and foremost the show’s 10(!) executive producers, including Hollywood’s biggest director, Steven Spielberg; Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (the Oscar-winning Chicago); and Tony-winning composing team Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray). This impressive pedigree made Smash the most high-profile premiere of 2012, and the series started strong with a stellar pilot, which followed the team behind a new Marilyn Monroe musical called Bombshell, including the two starlets vying for the lead, Karen (Katharine McPhee) and Ivy (Megan Hilty). Then several things went wrong. Like Ellis (Jaime Cepero), the sweater-vested sexually ambiguous assistant to Broadway producer Eileen (Anjelica Huston). Or the wardrobe of Bombshell‘s lyricist, Julia (Debra Messing), which featured a collection of distractingly large — and ugly — scarves. “I thought it was really shocking, that it offended some people to their bone,” says Messing. “There were some virulent things written about these scarves.” Jokes Hilty, “Who knew that Debra Messing’s scarves would become a drinking game? When I heard that, I was like, Really?”
New showrunner Joshua Safran (Gossip Girl) got the gig after selling NBC on his plan for the new Smash: More star power (Jennifer Hudson! Liza Minnelli!), more ambitious plotting, more original music (including tunes from a new Rent-esque project called Hit List), and absolutely no more scarves. Judging by the first three episodes, Safran has given Smash some much-needed mood stabilizers to eradicate its whiplash tone and character shifts, and the new players — like bad boy songwriter Jimmy (Jeremy Jordan), a love interest for Karen, and Broadway superstar Veronica Moore (guest star Hudson) — bring fresh energy to the storytelling. Basically, this season could be retitled Smash 2.0: Go Big or Go Home. “Some things you’ll fail with because being audacious doesn’t always fly,” says NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt. “But I think we have to be audacious or we’re dead.”
Watch footage of EW’s cover shoot below with stars Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty alongside Smash newcomer Jennifer Hudson, who appears in three episodes this season.
For more on Smash and our Winter TV Preview — which gives the scoop on all of the hottest new and returning shows from Downton Abbey to The Following — pick up the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands Friday.