Safran: I’m a fan and I went to Tisch and majored in playwriting, but then I got an agent while I was still in college and I started writing movies. But I wanted to be a playwright growing up — that was my goal — and I was taught by amazing playwright like John Guare and other great people. And I dated an actor who was one of the original leads in “Rent” for six years so I was around for that whole process when it first started. I think on this show, for sure, it’s good to have at least some passion for it. It’s not like I was this big hound when I was working on “Gossip Girl.” I grew up on the Upper East Side, and I went to a private school, so I had that experience and it helped me there. I love theater so much. I’ve seen Megan perform, I’ve seen Christian perform. I know [“Smash” song composers] Scott Wittman and Marc Shaimanare musicals very well. More than my first kiss or the time I broke my wrist, I remember my first musical, which was “The Pirates of Penzance” with Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Kline. I missed it because I had mono and then my whole family went without me and I was really mad and then my mother found a way to take me a month later.
Talk about the differences of running a show like “Gossip Girl” and running a show like “Smash.”
Safran: It’s funny, it all happened so fast so nothing could really be jarring. I think only now am I really processing it all. I think the biggest difference is that “Smash” has many different things in production at one time. Whereas with “Gossip Girl,” it was just the episode you were working on and the next episode coming up. But “Smash” has all the music, it has to be choreographed, costumes have to be designed — and that’s just one pocket. Then there’s building musicals with plots to them that are not just an episode-by-episode basis — you have to actually know the entire plot 'cause it’s not told in a linear way all the time. All of the pieces on “Smash” … there’s just definitely more of them than there were on “Gossip Girl.” But in a weird way, “Gossip Girl” was a very heightened situation because we did 24 or 25 episodes a year, and it’s a lot of information so that marathon sort of taught me the marathon aspect of what to expect. There are times where, because everything is such a puzzle, if one piece — if a song comes in a day late or an actor gets sick — it’s not just the shooting that gets pushed back, it’s all the rehearsing, all the recording that gets pushed back. It’s an amazing system.
Let’s talk about the music a little more. The way it was incorporated at times often felt odd when it wasn’t related to scenes directly tied to the musical. Was that one of your major concerns in taking it on?
Safran: I had very strongly — well, everyone involved felt this way — that we needed to fix that. None of the music is out of nowhere, at least I hope it doesn’t come across that way. When I took the job, on my first day, I took all the writers to a screening room and we got prints of “All that Jazz” and "Carousel” and we also watched “Pennies from Heaven,” and the goal was to study these movies who use music in a different way — especially “All That Jazz” and “Pennies From Heaven,” where it’s more like dream sequences and it’s sort of like people’s inner emotions, much like “Chicago.” Inner emotions being acted. We try to approach all of the covers that way. So whenever there’s a cover, it’s when a person is feeling it, not when somebody standing up and singing in a bar or at a bowling alley. It’s always going to be born from emotions they are feeling that they can’t express, which is what the great good musicals do. In regards to the musical numbers within “Bombshell,” that will remain the same as the first season approach.
Another area I wanted to tackle was I felt that the characters had burned through their stakes quickly. Julia had an affair and jeopardized her family, Eileen had gotten her divorce — all these things happened, and I just felt an infusion of new stakes were very important. I think, in some ways, “Smash” will play out a little slower. The thing is, when you work on a show from the beginning the pilot takes so many months and then you’re told you’ve been picked up, now “go” and it’s like a fire is lit. I had the luxury of time and I knew it was returning midseason and even though we start shooting in July, I still had a little more time to arc out the year with my team.
What do you say to those who are worried how the show will progress under your care? “Gossip Girl” is a different kind of show, and it’s one that went wayward story-wise more than a few times.
Safran: I get it. But the goal is everything that people loved about “Smash” last year, we’re trying to stay true to that. And stuff that maybe wasn’t as strong, we’re trying to tweak. I think it remains true to the characters and the world that Theresa created, and I wanted to honor that. It is her playground that I am on. What I’m bringing to it from “Gossip Girl” is sort of plotting that is a little bit more season-long focused. All I can say is watch. I think everyone here made a very strong push to keep the show what it was. I hope people find that it’s the show they had wanted to see last year.
The opening number in the Season 2 opener seems very fitting to what’s happening behind the scenes. Do you see it as metephorical and symbolic to everything that is going on?
Safran: It’s funny, I think it’s definitely a commentary on where we’re at. [“Smash” song composers] Scott Wittman and Marc Shaimanare brilliant that they saw that as an opporunity. But while it’s a comment on moving on, it’s also still a part of “Bombshell.”