Smash! Josh Safran on What's New for Season 2, Karen-Vs.-Ivy, Derek-as-Fosse and the Ellis Tease

Smash - Season 2A funny thing happened toward the end of Smash Season 1: Everything changed. Well, not everything. But Theresa Rebeck, the Broadway baby who’d birthed the NBC drama, was not invited back for an encore. Ultimately, Josh Safran — no stranger to spinning New York City-based tales, as a Gossip Girl showrunner – was handed the reins for Season 2, which with its two-hour premiere (airing tonight at 9/8c) promptly updates us on Bombshell team members Karen, Ivy (?), Derek, Tom, Julia and Eileen, while also weaving in fresh faces such as Jeremy Jordan (Newsies) and Andy Mientus (Carrie: The Musical), as the aspiring playwrights behind a show called Hit List.

How will Smash‘s second act compare to the first? TVLine sat with Safran to survey his plan to stoke the stakes, broaden the Broadway-based canvas and phase out – though not ditch completely! – a few of Season 1’s weak links. (Ellis, is that you…?)

RELATED | Smash‘s Season 2 Premiere: Frosty Feuds, Scandalous Setbacks and More Scoop

TVLINE | Tell me about how, when and by whom you were approached about taking over at Smash.
I approached them. I put in a cold call when I heard they were looking for somebody. I had been watching the show and had sort of been obsessed with it, so I wanted to see if there was any possible chance. I got in the door first with DreamWorks, I talked to them, and I just kept moving up until I was meeting with Steven [Spielberg] and [NBC president] Bob [Greenblatt]. Every step of the way, I was like, “This isn’t going to happen. There’s just no way.” Then, really, it was a fairy tale. It was crazy.

TVLINE | OK, so you were a fan going in.
I was a huge fan. Yes, I watched every episode, and we talked about it Tuesday mornings in the Gossip Girl writing room. It was just one of those shows everyone was watching and couldn’t stop talking about.

TVLINE | The talks you had with the producers, were they about taking charge of something as is, or did they indicate a shift was desired?
Honestly, it was one of those things where it never quite came up like that. The producers were very involved in understanding what parts of the show were working and what parts of the show weren’t, and as an audience member I was as well, so I think that our sensibilities just lined up. I came in, I think ,with a pretty formed pitch, and I think that pitch hit the quadrants they were looking to hit — and it’s what we’re doing.

TVLINE | Did running another New York-based production, Gossip Girl, give you any special skill set in approaching Smash?
I grew up in New York City, I went to a private school, and I grew up on the Upper East Side so for Gossip Girl I was [familiar with the environs]. The difference is that with Smash, everything is on the East Coast, as opposed to Gossip Girl, where the writers and [post-production] were in Los Angeles. Here, it’s an incredible experience because everyone gets to know everybody, the actors actually can interface with editors in the hallway…. As far as shooting around town, I think Gossip Girl probably did more than Smash Smash - Season 2does because we were always looking for new events and spaces, whereas with this, your event is Broadway. But one of the greatest things about Smash is to be in these Broadway theaters.

VIDEO | Exclusive Smash First Look: ‘Princess’ Karen Hits a Sour Note With the New Guy

TVLINE | Smash’s new show-within-a-show, Hit List – is that an element that you inherited or is it something of your own design?
The goal was to show that in every season in Broadway, and Off Broadway, there are multiple shows coming about, there’s always tons of stuff going on. When the conversation is about what you’ve seen on Broadway, sometimes that includes stuff on the fringe, so it was about, “How do we show the bigger world, that Smash isn’t just about Broadway, it’s about actually the process of creating musicals?” We knew that would mean we’d have to widen the viewpoint. As far as Hit List is concerned, it was important to showcase a show where the sound was completely different from Bombshell. There is Next to Normal, and there’s Billy Elliot, And you had, I think, Avenue Q and Wicked in the same year.

TVLINE | But the original plan to chronicle Bombshell‘s segue to Broadway in Season 2, that remained intact?
Yes; that is definitely something that I loved that last year, watching every step of the process. It was Theresa’s idea to continue the process and show the move to Broadway, which is pretty awesome, so why deviate from something so great? It’s still about the road to Broadway. It just hits a couple of snags.

TVLINE | Are Bombshell and Hit List in any way going to run afoul of each other?
I don’t know. I mean, I do know but I’m not going to answer. [Laughs] I will say that there is “a lot of overlap.”

VIDEO | Musical Smash Preview: For Karen and Ivy, Is There No ‘Moving On’ from Their Feud?

TVLINE | How would you characterize the Karen-Ivy frenemyship right now, and how is it going to evolve moving forward?
I think that last season Ivy (played by Megan Hilty) pretty much did the most despicable thing you could do to a person short of killing them, so they are wisely staying away from each other at the beginning of the season. We will obviously continue to cross them and I think that their relationship will always be complicated but it’s not necessarily always antagonistic. You’ll still see a lot of them connecting, but no one is sleeping with anyone’s fiancé this year. So far.

TVLINE | Do you feel compelled to present them each as significant talents, regardless of who’s got the Marilyn role?
I do, and I think last season showed that as well. It showed an audience that there’s more than one person that can fit a role. If you look at Gypsy and all of the different people who have played Rose, it’s amazing. It was fun last year to show that Ivy and Karen were both equally talented in their own right, but they were different in what they brought to the role.

TVLINE | Did I read somewhere that although Karen (Katharine McPhee) has the role of Marilyn right now, she might do something to jeopardize it?
That might have been the quote…. I would say that it’s more about: Just because you have a role, it doesn’t mean that you’re not able to able to do other things at the same time. She might be putting on a little bit of a producer hat.

PROCEED TO PAGE 2 FOR SCOOP ON DEREK/IVY, THE WILL & GRACE REUNION THAT WASN’T AND MORE

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29 Comments
  1. Carola says:

    Well I for one hope Derek/Ivy are NOT endgame! We´ve had enough of them in season 1. Sorry, but they don´t have chemistry on screen. It would be very disappointing if they end up together. Plus I understand they are very similar, but that´s the thing. THey are too jaded for each other. IMO they both need someone different in their lives to bring out the best out of their characters.

    I still hope Josh continues to develop the relationship between Karen & Derek. Those two are the ones we want to see on screen! And from what I´ve seen this season even if she is with another guy, a friendship and bond is forming there too.So hopefully sometime in the future they will get together! I am so looking forward to it.

    • Nia says:

      Word!!! I don’t know how Ivy/Derek is even sth to talk about. It was obviously a quick stop to those character’s journey. Nothing more.
      Derek/Karen is the “it” romantic story on that Show

    • Haie says:

      Here girl, take my life.

      You’re so right. Ivy and Derek were so boring… their scenes together were boring, as well as their relationship.
      We’ve had enough of them in season one. I don’t need more Divy crap on my screen in season two.

      Kat and Jack have an amazing chemistry. This can’t be ignored, just like that…
      Don’t do that with us Josh.

    • Bobby says:

      Are you for real? Karen is boring as hell and Karen/Derek is a snoozefest.

      • I’m bored to tears by Derek and Karen also, and found Derek and Ivy to have the only interesting, layered relationship on the show. I’m not sure how anyone could term it “boring”, but then again, it would be boring if we all watched for the same things. In fact, if Derek and Ivy are done I might step out of the whole season depending upon what else happens, it was about the only thing I liked throughout the whole of first season.

    • Nayda says:

      I am a fan of Katherine Mcphee and I think the show is beautiful. I enjoy the music and pretty much everything of it. I do hope that Karen and Derek stay together. He looks out for her, shows respect, and for once he looks truly in love. I would be very disappointed if this is not the case at the end.

    • gail says:

      I hope they do not end the show but if they do which is a tragic mistake. I have to agree that
      Derek and Karen need to end up together. They have amazing chemistry and he has been
      in love with her for a long time. I have been waiting as well. Also maybe another network will
      pick it up if NBC cancels it.

  2. Remy says:

    Yes! I can’t wait to see the second half of the season premiere! I’m excited to see where Smash is going this season.

  3. Gillian says:

    Derek/Karen are much more interesting than Derek/Ivy. They also had much more chemistry last season. I’m cautious about this season but hoping the show lives up to last season’s finale, which was incredible.

  4. Lily18teen says:

    seriously, Who’s asking about Derek and Ivy????? NO ONE thinks Derek and Ivy are end game. Especially when there’s so much more potential and chemistry between Derek and Karen. even with Jimmy in the mix, you feel as if that there’s an inevitability happening between Derek and Karen.

    I don’t understand why you didn’t ask more Derek and Karen and Jimmy questions. Those were more interesting questions that i would like answered.

    And for the record, I saw what you did there with you trying to imply that Kat Mcphee isn’t talented. Your IVY bias is showing. very unprofessional.

  5. Gabrielle says:

    No to Derek/Ivy. Just no.

  6. Jen says:

    Derek and Karen are definitely the “IT” couple! Katharine McPhee and Jack Davenport just ooze chemistry. Ivy and Derek are like watching paint dry. They shouldn’t even be discussed as endgame.

    • ABBY says:

      I’m not a fan of Derek and Ivy either but I think the lack of chemistry between KMc/JD is actually painful to watch. I guess chemistry really is subjective.

  7. quang says:

    Man, shippers really are really are the worst.

  8. dan says:

    I think putting Karen and Derek together might go a long was toward having viewers embrace Kat McPhee as a lead. She’s at her best with him, and not with these boring guys they’ve saddled her with. Well, to be honest, Dev was okay, but this new guy is like Ellis the sequel.

    • ising says:

      I agreeee…I hate the new direction its heading toward..the two new guys are moody ,ungreatful n redundant…I love the guys voice but it puts k mcfee n a diff. Light n my opinion.I see her as more childlike around them,perhaps given their age but the ongoing attitude of the both of them is annoying…while I didn’t like the way dereks charecter man handled n threatened dude,nor do I see him n kat as a real combo,nothing personal,I like kat,extremely talented but not a romantic mature to me,def sweet hearted charecter but childlike.it seemed before her n der. Might do alright n clearly the viewers want that direction but I have a suspicion that as soon as attitude boy acts out,shell find out,relationship w der. Will be overr before it began and a,shell tell him off after he puts a move on ,b,her n dude will get into it n blow up n shell find out n go off on der. Orrrr the unexpected one percent..shell be w der…my apologies for using word dude,I d k his name but still,seeing her dissapointment in going to have drinks w derek rather than dude was sad n shouldn’t have bn written that way n my opinion…der. supposedly longed after her bche couldn’t have her n built trust n report and now he went protective underhanded??why not write it honest n let things develop?

  9. charissa29 says:

    I watched Gossip Girl and when I heard that Josh Safran would be showrunner on Smash, I almost through my tv across the room. At least we can hope he doesn’t show a scorching contempt for Smash audiences. Hopefully he won’t throw in big game changing plots that fizzle out with no follow through; or have people play hopscotch from bed to bed and person to person for no conceivable reason except chaotic tension. Sigh.

  10. AngD says:

    Personally, I could care less for who is or is not paired with Derek. I actually prefer the storylines where Ivy and Karen are frenemies – competing with each other, but also attaining an understanding of the other that builds respect for each other.

    Tom and Julia are my other favorites. Don’t really care about Anjelica Huston’s character on the show – she doesn’t seem like ‘strong’ person who would be producing a show – the best part about her is watching her throw drinks in her ex’s face.

  11. Tracy says:

    UGH! Ivy and Derek cannot possibly be the end game! These two characters have zero chemistry and are completely boring together! Derek needs to be with Karen! Those two sizzle together and the hope that they will get together is one of the things that keeps me watching!

  12. Bobby says:

    Karen is genuinely one of the most boring characters on television right now. Does anyone even buy that she deserves anything more than the more-talented Ivy?

    • linds says:

      This. I had never even heard of Megan before SMASH, but just fell in love with her… and her massive talent. I stopped watching at the end of Season 1 because it seemed they were simply making Ivy horrible so that we HAD to accept Karen as the ‘star’ and the ‘good girl.’ Meh… she just seems like a bland bit$h to me. I want to like her, but I just can’t. Hopefully, this season will allow both women to have layers.

  13. Alex C says:

    Derek/Karen was the pairing with the most potential. Derek/Ivy was showed to be a disaster.

  14. Dana Kiehl says:

    Good interview. Safran is showing a far more diplomatic and easy-going personality than Rebeck ever did in interviews. I’m looking forward to the new season. It sounds like Safran made a lot of good changes.

    BTW, if they are thinking of having Ellis pop up again, I wonder if they would recast him?

  15. Mary Carlson says:

    Ivy is the real talent here. Karen is a pretender to the diva throne!

  16. DR says:

    I want to see Karen become less of a goody goody and more of a woman of the world. Then, it would be great for Karen and Derek to get together. I think McPhee could handle the change in personality.

  17. DR says:

    Would love to see Karen and Derek get together.

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