Can Jennifer Hudson and New Cast Members Save 'Smash'?

Producers hope the Oscar-winning singer and hip new characters will appeal to a younger audience

"Someone's always waiting to take you down, honey," says Jennifer Hudson's character, Ronnie, in an upcoming episode of Smash. "But if the work's good, they won't be able to."

No doubt that's what the producers of Smash are thinking as Season 2 premieres (NBC, Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET). The show debuted last year to lots of commercial fanfare and critical praise, then swiftly took a nose-dive in the ratings. Critics abandoned it, citing its inconsistent tone and outlandish musical numbers. As TV Guide's Kate Stanhope puts it, "Smash quickly went from critical darling to Twitter punch line."

But producers of the show -- who include Steven Spielberg and TV musical bigwigs Neil Meron and Craig Zadan -- have brought in Gossip Girl's former executive producer, Josh Safran, to run things in Season 2. And guess who the man behind the hit teen soap wants to appeal to? You got it: younger viewers! 

Bringing Hudson in to play a Broadway star named Veronica "Ronnie" Moore for a multi-episode arc is a great way to start. They've also hired three 20-something stage actors as full-time characters: Krysta Rodriguez as Karen's (Katharine McPhee) new roommate, Ana; Jeremy Jordan as Karen's new love interest, Jimmy; and Andy Mientus as his writing partner, Kyle -- with whom he writes a more contemporary musical, Hit List. This production will no doubt feature hipper songs than "Bombshell," the musical brought to life by the characters in Season 1 -- exactly the kind of choices that have helped keep the likes of Glee current.

Not that fans of the first season will tune in to a totally different show. "There really is not a tonal difference from Season 1 to Season 2," Safran told TV Guide. "It might have some younger cast members, the music in the covers might be a little more apropos for the characters, and maybe there is a little more humor," he says, "but it still is Smash."

In other words, expect the same song and dance -- with a younger vibe. But here's a question worth asking: Wasn't this show originally billed as the Glee for adults?  

Smash was supposed to be the show that got Broadway right while taking the karaoke inclinations of American Idol and Glee and turning them into respectable adult drama," writes Mike Hale from The New York Times. Yes! We were all excited to see a TV musical that would also, somehow, manage to fall into the category of quality scripted TV. But Hale points out that Smash turned out to be "small, wan and polite."

If Hudson singing her heart out in the clip below is any indication, expect bigger and better (and younger) things this season.


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