TV's 'Smash' Looks At Backstage Drama Of  Making Of A Broadway Musical

David Marshall Grant sits at his desk in a nondescript office in an unmarked building in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, near the East River.

That's where Broadway magic happens, at least by way of the new NBC series"Smash," which premieres 10 p.m., Monday, Feb. 6.

As an executive producer/writer on the show, the Westport native faces a large whiteboard hanging in his wall. On it are math-like diagrams of the characters, plot points and musical numbers of the final episodes of the first season, now filming.

"It's very Rubik's Cube-y," he says with a relaxed smile, not showing the least bit of anxiousness at the much-hyped premiere just a few days away.

For NBC, it's a high-risk throw of the dice for the last-place network, committing to an expensive series about a subject that no one has yet undertaken on this scale: a prime time soap about the backstage drama surrounding the creation of a big Broadway musical.

But even with Steven Spielberg as a prime producing hand on the show — not to mention a huge Superbowl promotion, there is no guarantee that viewers will buy into the musical series the same way they did to make"Glee" and "High School Musical," well, smashes — as well as franchises.

But Broadway is invested in the success of the show, too.

"I think there's a lot of hope riding on this show — and 'Marilyn,"" says Grant, referring to the musical within the series. The last time Broadway tried to do a musical based on the life of American icon Marilyn Monroe in 1983, it flopped.

"['Smash'] doing well would be a huge help to the Broadway community,' says Grant, 56, "but it would also be a seismic change in the cultural appreciation of Broadway music."

Not since the '30s, '40s and '50s have Broadway shows been a regular contributor to the American songbook, says Grant. Since then, Broadway is seen as a musical footnote in America's cultural conversation.

Broadway veterans Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman ("Hairspray," "Catch Me If You Can"), are creating the original songs for "Marilyn" which also counterpoint the off-stage drama.

The show also features pop tunes in the course of the off-stage story-line with performers singing in pianos bars, karaoke clubs and auditions.

"Every number is intoxicating," says Grant, "and I defy America not to like that music and want to download it the next day." (The show is plugged into iTunes for quick and easy downloads.)

For the moment, Grant is focused on his script of the 14th episode — the next to the last of the season —which is about to be filmed. The final show of the first season will be "Marilyn"'s out-of-town opening in Boston. Grant says the second season — still in outline stage — will involve bringing the musical to Broadway.

"What's so complicated about our show is that we're trying to put on a musical within a television soap opera," he says, "so we're beholdento two masters. First there's 'Marilyn,' the musical and then there's 'Smash,' the TV show."

Grant says the logistics and plotting of "Smash" is infinitely more difficult than previous TV series he worked on in an executive producing position.

"With 'Brothers and Sisters" we did a story line and we were done," he says. "This is like doing the story line, making sure it fits into the musical numbers that are in the show, serving the [TV] show, and seeing that it all fits in the progression to the musical's opening night. There's more to worry about than just the emotional lives of the characters."

Meta Experiences

The show, which was created by playwright-TV writer Theresa Rebeck, has parallels to real life.

Megan Hilty plays Ivy, a stunning Broadway talent in the chorus line looking for the right part to propel her to star status. Hilty, too, has years of experience in the ensemble as well as a leading replacement role ("Wicked") and a major role in a flop show ("9 to 5: The Musical"). Hilton is looking for her star-making role.