Back in 2012, a little show called “Smash” debuted on NBC. The series, which focused on the blood, sweat, tears and scarves (lots of scarves) that go into making a Broadway musical, received mostly positive reviews for its pilot and seemed poised to make NBC more of a serious contender in the network TV battle. It had a winning team behind it; Stephen Spielberg was an executive producer, Tony-winning composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman were set to write songs for the show within the show and accomplished playwright Theresa Rebeck as attached as the show’s creator. Well-known actors like Anjelica Huston and Debra Messing were mixed in the cast with Broadway vets like Christian Borle and Megan Hilty. But then, things went south – fast.
Following a uneven and lackluster first season with enough behind-the-scenes drama to fuel an entire season of “Smash,” Rebeck was replaced as showrunner and at least four actors that played large roles in the first season were unceremoniously let go. There was some hope that a revamped second season would bring back the promise that the pilot had, but it proved unsuccessful and thus “Smash” ended quietly on May 26, 2013.
As a big lover of Broadway and musical theatre, I was one of the hearty souls who watched “Smash” all the way to the bitter end. Even though it had its many failings, there was still something that always kept me around, whether it was a great musical number or a ridiculous plot development that I just had to see play out. I think a big part of it was that since “Smash” had so many strange and questionable moments, there was endless fodder for discussion. This discussion has carried on today, long after “Smash” took its final bow, in the form of an excellent podcast called “AfterSmash.” Hosted by Louis Peitzman, a longtime “Smash” fan, and Matt Piwowarczyk, a “Smash” virgin, “AfterSmash” is going through every episode of the show, (they’re currently in the midst of season two) hilariously dissecting all of the drama, head-scratching moments and musical numbers that make “Smash,” in their words, “NBC’s best/worst musical drama.”
I recently chatted with Peitzman and Piwowarczyk over the phone, where we talked about the TV podcasting landscape, the idea of “hate-watching” and, of course, the delightful train wreck known as “Smash.”
What made you guys want to get into the podcasting game?
Louis: I’ve wanted to do a podcast for a long time but it just seemed like a daunting idea. I actually had this idea for a “Smash” podcast while the show was airing and I just didn’t really feel like I had the time or I knew what I was doing enough to really get started. People kept asking me why I didn’t have a podcast and so finally when Matt and I were talking, he sort of revealed that he would be interested in doing the tech part of things and sort of figuring out how to record and editing and all of that and that was a huge burden off of me, so we decided to do something together.
Matt: I was really getting into podcasts a couple of years ago, and when I became friends with Louis, he mentioned this idea of doing a “Smash” podcast. I’d never seen the show but I’d seen everyone talking about it and was sort of interested in it. I was sort of attracted to having my own podcast after listening to so many so I kind of just jumped at the opportunity when Louis presented it.
Why “Smash” specifically?
L: I love the idea of going in-depth on a show, and “Smash” always made the most sense to me because when it was on I remember talking to friends who were watching it and just spending hours talking about all of the weird things happening on the show and how bizarre it was. We loved it and we loved picking it apart. It felt like a natural fit for a discussion-based show. Also, having done other TV podcasts, I feel like hour-long drama-type shows work better because there’s more to talk about and I think it’s best if the show takes itself a little bit seriously and one of the things I love about “Smash” is that it’s so crazy but also is pretty sincere. I think that just lends itself better to discussion and also to making jokes about it because there’s just so much there to talk about and make fun of.
M: Anjelica Huston grabbed my interest, and Debra Messing. I’m a huge fan of those actors. It’s one of those things where, I think Meryl Streep is a good example, where everyone loves Meryl Streep but there are several Meryl Streep movies that people haven’t seen or it’s a gap in your Meryl filmography and you don’t want to confess that you haven’t seen “Kramer vs. Kramer” or something like that. So I finally wanted to fill that gap in my Anjelica Huston viewership, I suppose. That was a big part of it. And I’d always sort of been into musical theatre as well, in a kind of casual way. What’s great about Louis is that he’s so enthusiastic about musical theatre and it’s sort of infectious. I had been listening to more shows, more Broadway albums, and it seemed like a good way to get back into that.
It seems like more recently a lot of podcasts have come out that focus on rewatching and discussing older TV shows, or at least shows that aren’t airing new episodes anymore. Why do you guys think that is? Why do you think people gravitate towards making those kinds of podcasts and why do you think people gravitate towards listening to them?
L: TV is very communal, obviously, and we enjoy watching TV and discussing it with people. I think that, with DVR and everything now, we don’t watch TV live as much anymore and so we’ve kind of lost a little bit of what we used to have, which was everyone watching shows at the same time or together and talking about them right after and so it sort of hearkens back to those days. I think it’s a natural fit. It feels fun to have a friend over to talk about TV and I think people listen because they miss that experience of watching together and discussing together. Especially shows that are no longer on the air. You’re sort of reliving it in that way. It’s really appealing for people.
M: It’s definitely a trend. I think that people are really hungry to discuss shows that they weren’t able to discuss in that format before. Podcasting kind of lends itself to that; it’s serialized, it costs almost nothing to make and you can kind of discuss whatever you want to, so why not go back and create a forum basically for shows that you maybe wanted to discuss with a wide audience but can’t anymore because they are no longer on the air. So that format kind of becomes ideal in that situation.
“Smash,” among other shows, seemed to bring up this idea of “hate-watching.” I feel like there have been shows that I’ve “hate-watched” in the past in some capacity or another, so why do you guys think that has become a thing?
L: I think it’s kind of like people who want to see a car wreck. There’s something appealing about watching something that is just wrong on every level. Going back to the whole thing of communal watching, there’s something satisfying about watching something together that is not good. What I loved about Smash is talking the next day about all of the bad things that happened. Talking about a great show is fun too, but it’s different. There’s only so much you can say, you’re kind of just gushing about how good it is. Whereas, a show where just random, terrible things keep going on in every episode, there’s a lot of material there that you can dissect with friends and try to figure out why they would do that and who made that choice and why wouldn’t they fix it. It’s really interesting to analyze it in those terms.
M: I wonder if there’s even such a thing as “hate-watching.” I don’t know, I feel like there has to be something you inherently love about what you’re watching to even be motivated enough to watch an hour of it, you know what I’m saying? I’ve been thinking about that, it’s a question I actually ask myself a lot as I’m watching “The Mysteries of Laura,” which really started as, “oh my god this seems like kind of a mess, I just want to check it out” into now I feel a little defensive about it. I’m very much into this genre of mystery called “cozy mysteries” and those sort of self contained stories that have a domestic piece and a crime element and that show had that and that’s the only thing right now that I could easily find on network television that is in that genre. So of course I would watch it. So I’m not necessarily “hate-watching” it, I’m watching it because it’s the best thing on that’s actually aligned to my interests. It has flawed elements that I can’t help but point out or mock in moments, but I think overall I really do like the show. And same thing with Smash. I think most people who watch Smash are very huge Broadway musical fans and musical theatre fans. Definitely Louis and I, we love Smash. We really love that show a lot, there’s just a lot of flaws to discuss. Enough to make a podcast out of it! And I hope that looking back on episodes there are as many positive things to say as negative things to say. I don’t know if that’s actually a mathematical balance but I feel like I’ve been feeling more positively about the show recently. Especially because I know it’s going to end.
And finally, based on your experience so far, what advice would you guys give to someone interested in starting their own podcast?
L: I would say the biggest thing is planning. I think the more planning you do ahead of time, the better. It’s a lot more work then you think it’s going to be. There were things we did, like we made sure we had five episodes before we started posting them online, which I think is a good idea. One thing I wish I had done earlier is booking people on the show because it can be very hard to find someone last-minute who wants to do the show. I think consistency is also important and I’m glad we haven’t actually missed any weeks yet, but the way we do that is we try to get things done as early as possible. So yeah, planning ahead of time is I think the biggest thing.
M: I find myself gravitating towards podcasts that are structured and I think we’ve kind of done that with ours, with the predictions or the Karen vs. Ivy segment. And that’s kind of a taste thing. I prefer that element. But also, most importantly, it has to be something that you are willing to talk about for conceivably years and years. Doing it for several months, especially when you do a weekly one, you really have to love what your topic is and if not the day to day grind of recording and editing and all that stuff becomes even more tedious. It’s important to like what you’re talking about.
Are you also a long-suffering “Smash” fan? Ever “hate-watched” something? Have any TV-related podcasts of your own that you love? Let my comments section be your star. And of course…