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This is no fan letter to Ms Curry. I find her to be a competent, passionate journalist who has worked hard for her place at the anchor desk alongside America’s High School Prom King Matt Lauer and his plaid jacket.. But with the recent fall of NBC’s Today from the top spot after sixteen years, this Curry has gone from green to red. (Only curry joke, I promise.)
Faster than you can say “Good Morning America seems five shades brighter than natural sunlight,” rumors started to fly about Ann Curry being replaced by Savannah Guthrie due to the dip. Nobody saw that coming… except for anyone watching NBC jam Guthrie and her endless series of trench coats down our throats for the past six months.
But I submit to you that Ann Curry is not the problem, NBC is the problem.
No “liberal bias” argument here, simply the fact that there is no journalism. Without the humor of Meredith Viera in the morning, the thin layer of veneer that concealed Today is gone. Devoid of a frothy spontaneous air,Today shines as a self-promotion machine for its sister network and network shows.
What are Today’s top “stories”:
The empire has crumbled because NBC producers are obsessed with leading the conversation in lieu of reporting the news.
Their cold open - composed of one-part domestic news, one-part Nancy Grace porn, and one-part viral video - showcases everything wrong with the broadcast. The desperate attempt to talk about LapTop Dad, cross-promote The Biggest Loser cookbook, and pretend like Al Roker is a journalist has reached abort limits. Today no longer qualifies as any more informative than the NBC break room bulletin board.
The solution: CBS News.
Yes, that RC Cola of morning shows is the best news program on network television. You’d think that waking up with Charlie Rose would be like waking up and drinking straight bourbon; you’d think that waking up with Gayle King would be as irksome as Gayle King every other time you’ve seen her. But, it’s not! They’re charming and kind! They cover actual news! They don’t cross-promote CBS shows! They don’t conduct the broadcast from some antiseptic doll house that I’m supposed to believe the anchors hang out in like some celerity petting zoo. They ask questions of their guest that… are INTERESTING and SUBSTANTIVE.
It sounds crazy - I never thought I’d say it. But I wake up every morning and look forward to CBS This Morning. And the NBC cool kids club, struggling to write coherent sentences of copy (Michelle Kosinsky and Peter Alexander, I’m looking at you) and trying to convince me that Maria Menounos, Jenna Bush Hagar, or Sarah Palin are journalists… well they’re banned from my morning.
There’s a reason Law & Order was successful: the New York arts community rallied around the procedural so struggling actors of all stripes could have the chance to add “discovering dead hooker” to their demo reels.
And with the recent creation of Smash, NBC’s increasingly-metatheatrical take on the creation of a Marilyn Monroe musical entitled Bombshell, an entire industry of writers, actors, singers, dancers, producers, agents, and Nuts4Nuts vendors had pre-ordered the Kool-Aid for drinking. But like Norma Jean herself, the show has fallen from great heights into an outrageously transparent, lifeless, hot mess featuring a Bollywood number last week. (My long-standing distaste for Indian fetishizing aside, it was a cry for help.)
So, here’s my rendition of “Let Me Be Your Script-Doctaaaaar!” to help save the tentpole-in-training with some easy fixes (having excluded the easiest option of “rehearsal room fire kills all characters except for Angelica Houston.”)
1. The clock is running, we should know. Suddenly, last episode, we learned that Bombshell is opening in Boston soon. Those are some fresh Boston-baked beans! I had no idea - rehearsals are pretty laxed! Viewers were collectively wondering about a deadline or possible season finale, but whatevs… Right now, Smash isn’t under any pressure. Get some. Instead of Angelica Houston getting her groove back in the footloose-and-fancy-free world of Lower East Side dive bars, she should be getting the squeeze from million-dollar investors anxious to see results. (Oh, wait. They killed off that tension by finding a mysterious rock star investor who didn’t really care that much. Oops. Fix that—make him a con man.) At the very least, have the title of each episode let us know how close the opening is. Chart a clear timeline and stick with it.
2. If I wanted to be watching Glee, I would watch Glee. NBC, I get it; we all get it. You want to sell on iTunes. But in the long run (perhaps a term unfamiliar to television executives), it would be more profitable to have a hit show that ran for many seasons than to have me suffer thinly-veiled scenarios in which Katherine McPhee has to sing various genres. If we’re (still) watching the show, it’s because we like musical theater. And in making a musical, many songs are written! I won’t begrudge exaggerating that fact each week with many songs, even! (Second Hand Baby Grand was a hit.) But I will hate watching a desperate scramble to be on Facebook the following day by covering CeeLo, JLo, or Barry Manilow.
3. If you’re going to go there, go there. The following things should have happened: (1) Ivy should have a drug addiction, not OD-lite. (2) Julia’s marriage should be falling apart, she should have lost the adoption because of it, she should be living somewhere else, and potentially have a drinking problem. (3) Tom should be a huge slut unconcerned with romance. (4) Karen should be doing things she isn’t proud of and hiding it from her parents. (5) Derek should have thrown Ivy out like last week’s issue of Pompous Theatre Director’s Weekly. (6) Angelica Houston’s divorce should be NASTY—she should be nasty. If there’s a central problem with Smash it is the show’s nagging insistance to not have bad guys. Characters do bad things and are redeemed WITHIN THE SAME EPISODE. There’s no reason why these people can’t have demons, skeletons, ruth, and secrets. What I wouldn’t give for a multi-episode secret!
4. Trim the fat. Burn off the following characters in story-lines that make the central characters richer: Dev, RJ, Ellis, Ellis’ “girlfriend,” the Greek chorus of catty stereotypes, Ivy’s token black friend cum Tom’s emotional lover, Nick, Leo, Frank (or give Brian d’Arcy James something to DO!). Who’s left, you ask? SIX LEAD CHARACTERS. And in the usual three-up, three-down structure (Grey’s Anatomy, ER, L&O, Alias, Damages), the problem is that Smash has four-up, two-down (with Karen and Ivy alone in the lower-section, and Houston awkwardly inserting herself ineffectively in the threesome). Rebalance Houston to a two-fabulous-scenes role, like the elder statesman on L&O, and introduce a double-agent on the lower-section to play Ivy and Karen off each other.
5. We need to get invested in Bombshell. I will go to my grave hating on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip because the comedic sketches just weren’t funny, and so the show was meaningless; those people didn’t seem good or passionateabout their work. Similarly, Smash is losing steam quickly because we have no idea about Bombshell. I know some songs, (thanks to Uma Thurmann) I know some more scenes, but wouldn’t it be great if the songs and scenes actually mirrored the narrative action outside the rehearsal room! You know, like the conceit of the show or the pilot! The idea that I can’t map the two over one another is as insulting as reiterating Rebecca Duval’s peanut allergy a record-breaking eight times. (I wonder why she’ll drop out of the show…)
I do believe that Smash can get better, but the question is: has the audience walked out? And if so, how do we get them back? Clean house, get a star, get a strong sense of direction, and start a new workshop—called Season Two.
As a ten-year old, I could have run any television network.
I spotted hits like “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The X-Files,” and “The Practice” way before the masses. (Notable misses include “Profiler,” “The Naked Truth,” and “Caroline in the City” which I will defend to my grave!) Still, I can spot a winner and, more importantly, when a winner is on its way down.
Tragically, my belov’d “New Girl” will be dead by season two unless some serious interventions happen.
I say that with a heavy heart; I would love to write for the show, and think that it has a winning formula. But recent episodes have only compounded the show’s flaws. The prognosis is not good.
Here are the clues:
I’m not asking for you to change into “Mike & Molly” or “Last Man Standing,” (Please do not!) I’m not even asking you to color quirky inside the liens; I’m asking you to have lines in the first place. Please: focus on Jess (not me), use plot-lines slowly, and stick to a structure.
Also, if you want my spec script or to give me a job, call me.