Smash-ed a Marketing Budget

The TV series Smash If Glee taught Steven Spielberg anything, it’s that the drama and intrigue of Broadway can resonate through to Main Street if you get the formula right. The Hollywood director isn’t bringing another teen romp to the TV screen though but rather a much-talked-about, epically hyped, behind-the-scenes showcase of life in musical theatre; the prime-time series, Smash.

Get the picture that there is a marketing budget behind this one? Trust me, there are more banner ads for this one than Weight Watchers on January 1.

Using the classic show within a show format, Smash will showcase the Great White Way through a group of characters preparing a musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe (an exceptional piece of timing in light of Michelle Williams’ Golden Globe-winning performance as the iconic movie star thrusting her back in to the mainstream dialogue).

And the question on Broadway devotees’ lips is whether the hopeful success of Smash will translate in to higher grosses and greater audience attendances for the real-life shows on which these storylines are based. That the soaring voices, breathtaking dance routines and show-mances will fuel a passion for the real-life version. And even more so, make Broadway a family talking point and eventual excursion for more and more people.

It certainly won’t hurt the show – although its greenlighting from NBC was perhaps his biggest gift – to have Spielberg on board as an Executive Producer. Sweetly, its come to light that before Spielberg captivated the world with E.T.,  he was learning the ropes of his industry the old-fashioned way as a stage manager. It is allegedly these experiences, witnessing those unable-to-be-described live theatre moments that he wanted to reignite in Smash.

SmashThe extended trailer for the show features a sequinned Katharine McPhee (the expected breakout star) crooning the whimsical Somewhere over the Rainbow and tapping in to everyone’s inner Judy Garland. She’s rudely interrupted and brought back to reality by the acid-tongued casting director who takes a call and sends her on her way. You can almost see the wannabe actors and singers around the world nodding in experienced agreement.

The buzz is this will be the “real” story of the Broadway life, with serious fans who’ve previewed the show saying it will contrast strongly with Glee (filmed in Los Angeles, more about the importance of Smash‘s New York home lately), which is now too fantastical and young for true Broadway fans and that it will showcase the industry in a way they have been craving.

The score and lyrics is the work of the beloved Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the also-real-life couple who have become Broadway Royalty from their hit Hairspray as well as their collaborations with the indomitable Bette Midler.

For those in the U.S., the first episode can be watched right now online at their Facebook page amongst other websites. On free-to-air TV, it will debut the day after the SuperBowl which in television terms, is just one step behind being shown at halftime. For Australian fans, the show is expected to start on February 27th.

The build-up to the premiere has been epic – previews and mumblings about storylines, cast and songs starting last May – almost a year before what will be its eventual debut. It’s all part of a brand new “thang” called “brand-defining television” – networks desperate to build their audience well in advance to ensure success. And part of the convenience of experiencing epic moments from the comfort of your own home.

These huge investments have been a boom for those in advertising circles – Smash is a constant player on its home network, NBC, not to mention a brilliant billboard in Times Square and as previously mentioned, good luck logging on to a theatre website without catching a banner glimpse of a character, a scene or the blinding lights that have become its trademark.

But will the success of Smash equal the success of the real-life musicals the TV show strives to emulate? Very few Broadway shows, if any, have the extent of a marketing budget as this prime-time piece of work. Television execs claim that viewers now have the same expectations of television that they do of movies. Will that mean that the multi-million dollar ad campaigns and production budgets of a Smash raise the expectations of theatregoers who dream of live shows looking as crisp and clean and perfectly edited as what they have seen on TV?

There is also something innately glamorous and aspirational about scenes filmed on the streets of New York City. Sex and the City might have started it but so many of the shows filmed in this concrete jungle lead to the city becoming their silent character, an intangible that is innately relatable and yet so foreign to so many. Shows that create a heartland in their home city of New York often have success as well, as winning over the jaded New Yorker is a good sign that the rest of the world will return suit. Whether New Yorkers feel a bond to a Broadway story will be interesting, it remains to be seen whether they feel it is real enough to reflect their gritty yet glitzy lives.

To be honest, if I see one more ad for the NBC show, or the projection of its hit status, I might boycott it but maybe the saturation marketing tactic will be everyone’s gain from Broadway to NBC to New York City.


  • Broadway bid adieu fondly to Follies starring the incomparable Bernadette Peters. Despite the rapturous applause, standing ovations and critical praise, Follies was not a financial success according to producers of the show. Broadway baby Lysistrata Jones didn’t have such a graceful exit, forced to close after a brief 30-performance run.
  • For anyone keen to escape the Australian winter for a jaunt to Los Angeles, the Hollywood Bowl have just announced that their summer musical will be The Producers. It doesn’t seem likely that a reunion of its original cast – Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick – will occur but a girl can dream. And then hopefully shack up at the Chateau Marmont for a couple of days!
  • Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton ending their tenure with the Sydney Theatre Company made news in The New York Times, truly showcasing the global attention and impact the pair have brought to the organization by taking on the role as co-artistic directors.


Freya Grant

Freya Grant is a New York-based marketing and events manager, working with clients including the New York Yankees, the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and the Alzheimer's Association. A former journalist for Sydney's The Daily Telegraph, Freya has also worked at the Sydney Opera House and Kings' Cross charity, The Wayside Chapel. Since moving to New York in 2009, Freya has been fascinated by the marketing and branding trends of Broadway's roster of shows.

Freya Grant

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