It's easy to compare NBC's savior-to-be Smash, starring Katharine McPhee, to the only other musical show currently on air, Glee, but these comparisons are cheap. Smash is no more Glee than CSI is Law & Order.
There are no courtrooms, no operating rooms, and no interrogation rooms. That alone should make Smash stand out as a unique program.
Sure, there is music. Sure, it happens out of nowhere from time to time. Sure, it's being offered on iTunes after each show. But Smash and Glee are two different animals.
Glee is a complete clash of styles that was initially enjoyable but, as many critics now say, has turned into a mess. It toddles in the superficial and the momentary, handing us pop culture candy and hoping we enjoy it.
Glee shifts weekly, while Smash centers on the ongoing production of a musical - a musical about Marilyn Monroe. Moreover, Smash is about adults - about the pursuit of dreams and the potholes along the way. It doesn't meander in high school mores like its supposed counterpart.
Whereas Glee taps into the lucrative and influential teen market, subtly introducing them to the concept of musicals and show tunes, Smash assumes that the interest is already there - and that's the big gamble NBC is taking.
Perhaps that's why the executive producers are playing down the music and highlighting the adult plotlines.
Their day job happens to be putting together a show, but their lives aren't really about that, Craig Zadan, who, with partner Neil Meron, is among the many Smash executive producers, told The Associated Press. We also have adoption, divorce, infidelity and disapproving parents from the Midwest in our story lines. We've put in as many human, universal qualities as we can: It's a story about wish fulfillment.
What Smash won't be, he said, is a 'Glee' for adults, as many viewers were quick to assume.
We don't think that it's anything like 'Glee,' Meron said. But we thank God for 'Glee,' because it got viewers used to watching people sing on TV dramas.
Smash was originally intended for Showtime, but when Robert Greenblatt jumped over to NBC as chairman last January, he brought the pet project with him. Rumor has it the pilot episode had to be tamed down for network television.
Unlike Glee, Smash will introduce and compile original songs for Marilyn the Musical - the show-within-a-show that, if all goes as planned, will someday become a true Broadway musical outside the fictional world of Smash.
The premiere has a lot at stake. NBC put all its eggs in one basket, spending over $7 million on the pilot and hoping that its Super Monday combo of returning hit The Voice and mid-season replacement Smash can save the fourth-ranking network.
NBC chief Robert Greenblatt isn't shy about claiming the program is capable of ending the peacock's longstanding residency in the network cellar. He too has repeatedly denied all comparisons to Fox's Glee, even though both are variations on the backstage musical.
Every year networks bombard us with ads for their pet projects, but more often than not, the end result doesn't match the hype. Smash is an exception.
Though the idea of discovering McPhee has been a major draw for Smash, it's Anjelica Huston and Debra Messing that will keep viewers coming back.
Debra Messing's Julia is arguably more deeply layered than we've seen from her on television. Smash is ostensibly about Hilty and McPhee's battle for Marilyn, but Messing remains the show's central character and its heart and soul.
Like its Monday night predecessor, The Voice, and the talent show that gave birth to Katharine McPhee, American Idol, Smash usurps the intrinsic idea of talent discovery and spits it back out at us in a wholly entertaining fashion.
American Idol, is still around in part because it plucks talent from the streets of America and presents it to millions of viewers across the world. Whether or not they actually win appears irrelevant. In many cases, the runners up leave bigger impression on the entertainment business than the actual winners (i.e. Jennifer Hudson, Adam Lambert, and Katharine McPhee).
The paring of Broadway veteran Megan Hilty (Wicked) against total newbie (unless you watched The House Bunny) McPhee works wonders. Hilty feels like a star because she is one. McPhee does not, and that's why we root for her. We want to watch her become a star not just in the show, but in real life.
Smash plays off that desire for Americans to choose their own stars via a live televised broadcast once a week. Tune in, and you can watch McPhee rise from obscurity to stardom all over again.