[SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED THE SERIES FINALE OF SMASH!!!!]
After two seasons, the curtain has closed on NBC’s ambitious musical Smash. The series climaxed with Marilyn Monroe musical Bombshell winning big at the Tonys, including awards for Ivy (Megan Hilty) and composers Tom (Christian Borle) and Julia (Debra Messing). It also marked the end of an attempt to reboot the series under new executive producer Joshua Safran (Gossip Girl), who replaced series creator Theresa Rebeck. EW talked to Safran about the surprising finale, what season 3 would have looked like, and Rebeck’s criticism of his Smash.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you know this would be the series finale and not the season finale?
JOSHUA SAFRAN: It was like day two of episode 15 when the premiere aired. So 16 and 17 are the two-hour finale – 17 had already been broken and not broken as a series finale. Then after the ratings came through from the première, it was like maybe it would be, maybe it wouldn’t be. Then, as the next airing happened two weeks later, it was clear. The plot actually didn’t change — it was always the Tonys and the people who win and lose were the same people whether it was season finale or a series finale. We had to cut for time because the finale ended up being 15 minutes over, and those scenes will be on the DVD. But after Karen is at Table 46 at the end of the episode, before Jimmy comes to talk to her, an agent played by Nadja Dajani comes over to her and says, “I know you didn’t win tonight, but I want to tell you I think you’re incredible and I don’t just think you’re a stage star — I think you’re a movie star.” It would have paved the way for what the plan for season 3 was.
The plan for season 3 in my mind was a Hollywood movie musical. It would shoot in New York. I felt like after two seasons of watching two shows full trajectories, I didn’t want to repeat the story again so I thought I would take the season off and do a movie musical still using Broadway actors, still using Broadway stages, maybe it would have even been set in the world of Broadway. Who knows because we didn’t even get that far but it would have given audiences a season to [see] a different way of muscials being put together and then you could come back to Broadway in season 4. You see the seeds that are in the finale.
I’m still surprised that Ivy came out the winner in all of this because season one she was basically the villain. I know you put her through major character rehab.
We always knew that the real love stories of the season were Derek and Ivy, Jimmy and Karen, and Julia and Tom. In the very beginning of the year when the writers all got together and we had to make the big pitch to the network and the producers, that was always in it. But who was going to win was a closely guarded secret. Only I knew who was going to win the Tonys for a really long time. Then at a certain point I told the writers. We always knew that Bombshell was going to win. The question of whether it was Ivy or Karen, I actually made the decision very early on that Karen wouldn’t win. The question was going to be whether neither of them won or whether Ivy won. For a while, it was going to be maybe Ivy wins supporting and neither of them would win actress, so we went back and forth on it. About halfway through the season, because Ivy had gone through so much in season one and season two, was all about the phoenix from the ashes for her and for everybody. We just knew halfway through it has to be Ivy. She’s just been through too much and that role is so iconic and you’ve seen her deliver it so well.
The only thing that was a last-minute addition was that Derek wasn’t going to win choreography — he was going to win nothing. Then we all talked about it and we all realized it was more realistic that he would win and that people wouldn’t necessarily embrace that but the work would still be respected. Derek’s private demons are what he really needs to deal with, not being snubbed. So that was pretty much the last change that was made before we shot the finale.