Many of us who remember when Broadway musicals were an important contributor to pop culture are delighted that NBC has taken the risky step of placing Smash on it’s prime time schedule. Smash follows the fates of Broadway singers, songwriters, producers, directors, and dancers as they attempt to birth a musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe.
Given Fox’s success with Glee, NBC probably has a better than even chance that Smash will resonate with its target audience; presumably the sweet-spot demographic of women 25-49. Still, NBC’s version of “let’s put on a show” is not a sure thing, seeing that its primetime schedule occasionally places behind some basic-cable networks in the overnight Nielsen ratings, and that even Glee is having trouble maintaining the outsized success of its opening season.
With Steven Spielberg and a dream cast of Broadway veterans behind the series, NBC isn’t taking any chances in making sure that viewers know about Smash. Articles in New York magazine, The New York Times, Newsweek, and other print journals have reached the traditional viewers—those who still read newspapers and magazines—while a promotional campaign that links it with the year’s most-watched sporting event (“Smash debuts Monday after the Super Bowl.”) will resonate with those who get their information primarily from the Web and from television.
But the brilliant part of NBC’s marketing is that the network, a dinosaur of old media, has embraced new media by posting the entire pilot episode online. You can watch the episode before it airs nationally and then (per NBC’s plan), tell your friends about it.
I was told about it in a text. After I watched it, I posted the link on Facebook for other likeminded friends.
This is the network’s new version of an old-fashioned Hollywood tool: the movie sneak preview. Except that instead of having to sit through an iffy Jennifer Aniston rom-com, you get to see two outstanding female singers (Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty) vie for the role of Monroe, an engaging Debra Messing as the co-writer of the musical, and a formidable Anjelica Huston as the money behind the production.
The multi-platforming doesn’t stop there, however. The television show itself may ultimately be an hour of weekly publicity and promotion for a real Broadway production of Marilyn: the Musical, should that part of the plan (see the New York magazine article) come to fruition. If Smash builds an audience, then so does Marilyn: the Musical.
If you don’t know Marilyn, if a white dress flapping over a subway grate means nothing to you, if the phrase “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” doesn’t cause a smile to creep into your memory, or if you don’t know what she and Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio have in common, then you’re unlikely to enjoy a mash-up lyric like “baseball diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” If that’s the case, then maybe Smash isn’t your cup of TV.
In the meantime, kudos to NBC for embracing the Web, for giving us theatre geeks a chance to spread the word about an exciting new series, and for proving that old- and new-fashioned marketing hasn’t gone the way of Broadway’s influence on pop culture.
Felicia Knight is President of Knight Vision International, LLC
Image by NBC