An Upper East Side vet is making his way to the Great White Way.
Josh Safran, who had served as a writer and executive producer of the now-concluded "Gossip Girl," is gearing up for his curtain call as the new showrunner for NBC's behind-the-scenes Broadway drama "Smash."
He replaces creator Theresa Rebeck, who departed the series last May. And Safran has quite an undertaking for the newish drama. The show went into its first season as one viewers and critics loved but morphed into one they loved to hate-watch by the time its short season wrapped.
The series returns Feb. 5 with a two-hour premiere at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Before it enters Act 2, Show Tracker spoke to Safran. Read on to learn where he thinks "Smash" went off-path, what changes he hopes viewers notice and how a bout with mono stood between him and Kevin Kline.-------------------------------
Well, let’s start with the more pressing matter: Dan Humphrey is “Gossip Girl” … have you come to terms with that?
Safran: Ha! Yes, yes, I know, I know. I’m so sad I missed the last 10 episodes. I’ve done 111 and I missed the last 10! I mean, I knew about it and I thought it was great. It makes total sense to me. And over the years, we all had different opinions, but I think it was the right way to go. And I’m also proud of them for being able to keep it a secret.
OK, now the next pressing matter: “Smash.” You had been a viewer prior to getting the gig as showrunner, right? Did you re-watch the first season and start really analyzing what that season was — 'cause I think some people are still trying to process it?
Safran: Yeah, I watched it when it was on because I’ve always loved musicals, and I was excited about it. In the “Gossip Girl” writers room, we would all talk about it all the time. There were only about four or five shows that everybody was watching and everybody was talking about, and “Smash” was one of them. Every Tuesday morning, people would be talking about what happened on the show the night before. But, yeah, I watched it all in real time, and like when I watch anything, I’m analytical, so I saw things that I loved and other things where I understood why they went a certain way but maybe didn’t like it as much.
When I heard they were looking for a new person, I fought to get in because I was an underdog. My joke is always I’m the Karen (Katherine McPhee), not the Ivy (Megan Hilty) in the situation.
Let’s backtrack a bit: What were those discussions like on those Tuesday mornings? Were you guys like — ”What the heck was that bowling alley scene about?” or “Was I high or did they do a Bollywood scene?”
Safran: Well, yes, we talked about the good and the bad because we’re a bunch of writers and, of course, we’re going to find fault with anything or be jealous or be totally enamored. So talks ranged — it depended on the episode. There were some episodes more than others where there was more to harp on. But I think, also, we just really loved what this show was trying to do. It was fun, they were fun conversations.
Come on. You say you’re an analytical viewer: Where do you think the show got off track? Viewers grew frustrated at times as the season progressed. Did you share that frustration?
Safran: I never actually thought it went off track — it just took detours. The thru-line was very strong — showing a show from its inception and the attempt to launch it — so that I always loved and you always felt that drive. There were little detours, though, little character storylines that maybe I felt when they weren’t related to the making of the show I was kind of like, ‘Eh, can we get back to the show?’ And I mean, we still now see the character’s having personal stories, it’s just that those personal stories always impact their work. I sort of felt last year, the parts of the show that maybe I wasn’t as closed to, were the ones that strayed away from “Bombshell.”
Like the assistant Ellis (Jaime Cepero)?
Safran: Yes, like the assistant. Look, I totally understand the desire to create this “All About Eve”-type of character that’s in everything. But I do think that he went so far, that we couldn’t keep him around. Once you poison somebody, there’s really not more you can do. Just like Dev (Raza Jaffrey), once you sleep with the main rival of your fiance, I mean, what more is there to say?
Serena got plenty of chances on “Gossip Girl”! But let’s move on. What were the discussions like with you and NBC? Did they say, ‘OK, we want to avoid doing this and this in Season 2” or was it more you pitching how you envision the season playing out?
Safran: It was more I had to pitch a take. I had a very strong point of view, for better or for worse, and I just kind of stuck to it. It wasn’t so much anyone telling anybody ‘Let’s avoid doing this” as it was “Here’s where I think the show could go.” We’re all aware of the criticisms, and we’re all aware of what the people loved about the show. When we all sat down together, it was more of a focus on how to keep the momentum going on what people loved. I have the rare luxury of coming into a show in its second season so I can actually be objective in saying what worked and what didn’t — I’m not so emotionally tied to it.
Was there’s any discussion between you and Theresa [Rebeck]?
Safran: Uh, there was not.