When the second season of Smash premieres on NBC Tuesday night (Feb. 5, 9pm ET), fans of the first season might feel like they are watching an entirely different show. And with new producers, actors — including Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson — and the addition of a second musical within the plot, that feeling wouldn’t be too off base.
Don’t fret, though, because most of the changes appear to be for the better. Even diehard fans complained last year that some of the storylines and characters became ridiculous, which explained why the drama was hemorrhaging millions of viewers as the season went along. The first step taken to get those fans back was to replace show runner Theresa Rebeck with Josh Safran.
“We do have more original music, more musical sequences per episode, more sort of like diverse musical styles, which we thought was really sort of an amazing way to sort of utilize Broadway,” Safran said to a gathering of TV critics earlier this year. “When you look at Broadway right now, there’s shows that take place in the 1800s. There’s shows that are today. It really is a bigger world view, and I just wanted to sort of find a way to represent that Broadway on Smash as well.”
Part of representing that spectrum was bringing in an array of guest stars for Season 2 like Liza Minnelli, Sean Hayes and, of course, Jennifer Hudson — who is in three of the first four episodes.
“I think she’s really amazing,” Safran said of Hudson. “She sings a lot. She acts a lot. She dances a lot, and everyone got to work with her, and she’s just an amazing talent.”
Added Megan Hilty, who play diva Ivy Lynn: ”She’s phenomenal. It was incredible to get to hear her up close, because she is a force. Her voice is unlike any other. And she brought such a great energy to the set too. She’s a really generous and kind person on top of all of that talent.”
In addition to the new guest stars and show runner, viewers can expect the addition of a new musical within the show. Instead of just following “Bombshell” — the Broadway show in which Hilty’s Ivy and Katharine McPhee’s Karen Cartwright competed for the coveted role of Marilyn Monroe — we will also get to go behind the scenes of the fictional off-Broadway show “Hit List.”
Not only does it provide more musical numbers and plot opportunities, but it permitted Safran to bring onboard Andy Mientus and Jeremy Jordan (who was nominated for his performance in the Broadway musical “Newsies.”) The two young actors play collaborators on “The Hit List,” and Jordan could serve as a possible love interest for MPhee’s Cartwright.
“I think what we’re really proud of and we’re really excited about is the fact that “Bombshell” is ongoing and yet Josh found a way to start a new musical that is radically different from “Bombshell” on a parallel track that’s having its own life, its own course, and we have the diversity of two different musicals happening at the same time,” Craig Zadan, executive producer, told critics.
Fans of the first season will still get to see the great Jack Davenport, who is brilliantly blunt as the director of “Bombshell.” Among those also returning are Christian Borle, Angelica Huston, Debra Messing and Leslie Odom Jr. (who was named one of Channel Guide‘s TV Stars You Should Know By Name). Staying true to its core, Smash will also continue to follow the off-stage drama between Ivy and Karen.
“I love our relationship, because it is on a constant roller coaster, and you never know if they’re going to actually be friends,” Hilty said. “We have all these really beautiful moments, and then someone goes and ruins it (gesturing jokingly toward McPhee) with like sleeping with their fiance or something like that. But it’s great because it will always be that way, and you’ll never know where they are together.”
The two-hour Season 2 premiere of Smash airs Feb. 5 at 9pm ET/PT on NBC.