Smash and Nashville

I’ve been getting teased a little bit lately because my friends know that I like the TV shows Smash and Nashville. For those who might not be familiar with the shows, let me provide a brief overview before I explain why I like them.

SmashSmash, now in its second season and struggling for ratings, follows a group of people as they try to develop a Broadway musical. Key characters include:

  • Eileen Rand, Producer: She has tons of experience working on Broadway plays with her philandering husband, a ruthless, rich and successful producer. While going through a bitter divorce, she’s looking to step out of her ex-husband’s shadow and make a name for herself.

  • Julia Houston, Writer: She’s part of a highly successful Broadway writing team with Tom Levitt. She’s come up with the idea of making a musical about Marilyn Monroe’s life.

  • Tom Levitt, Composer and Musical Director: He’s part of a famous Broadway writing team with Julia Houston. He’s been partnered with Julia for a long time, but is he ready for something new?

  • Derek Willis, Director: A brilliant but difficult director, with flaws that may either sink the production or propel it into the stratosphere.

  • Ivy Lynn, Actress: An experienced actress, singer and dancer. She’s worked in the business for a long time and she’ll do just about anything to land her big break, a starring role in a major Broadway production.

  • Karen Cartwright, Actress: A young, naive actress who’s also looking for her big break. But how badly does she really want it? Is she willing to do what’s going to be required in order to make the new production a hit?

There are numerous other supporting characters, but those are the main ones.

Nashville - The TV ShowLike Smash, the new show, Nashville, follows the trials and tribulations of a group of creative professionals, this time in the competitive field of country music.

Key characters include:

  • Rayna Jaymes, Singer: A legendary country music superstar possibly facing the long, slow twilight of her career…unless she can re-invent herself.

  • Juliette Barnes, Singer: A young superstar who has achieved fame as a teen sensation. But now she wants to transform herself from a teen fad into a serious country singer.

  • Deacon Claybourne, Guitarist: A top country guitarist and former lover of Rayna James. He’s sought after by both Rayna James and Juliette Barnes for both his penetrating musical insights and his superb guitar work.

  • Scarlett O’Connor, Singer, Songwriter: The niece of Deacon Claybourne, and an unexpectedly talented entertainer in her own right. Is she ready for the spotlight?

  • Avery Barkley, Singer, Guitarist: A bad-boy aspiring musician and the boyfriend of Scarlett O’Connor. If there’s a wrong turn or a bad decision to be made, he’ll probably find it.

  • Gunnar Scott, Composer, Guitarist: Scarlett O’Connor’s friend and musical partner. He’s a nice guy, but does he have what it takes to launch his musical career and win the love of his musical partner?

Like Smash, this show also has a ton of supporting characters.

I’ll be the first to admit that both shows have their flaws. There are soap opera aspects to the lives, and loves, of many of the characters from these shows. But what the shows both do very well is to illustrate the joys, and perils, of creative careers.

Let’s contrast this, for a moment, with a show like the new Dallas, where most of the main characters are young, beautiful, smart and rich. They seem to spend all of their time scheming, back-stabbing and sleeping around. Although some of them are characterized as “brilliant,” you don’t really see any of them actually doing any work.

In Smash, the writers struggle to find the heart of the story that they want to tell about Marilyn Monroe. The two main actresses, both extremely talented, each compete with all their heart for a role that only one of them can win. The producer struggles to fund the production of the show, while dealing with treachery from both within the crew and from outside the production.

These people are working. They are hustling. They’re trying to bring something into existence that didn’t previously exist. They’re struggling to beat the odds. That’s…not something you generally see on TV, people actually working (you certainly don’t see it on Dallas).

I feel similarly about Nashville.

The aging country singer, Rayna James, is trying to be true to herself, while struggling to produce music that’s relevant both to herself and the audience. The upstart singer, Juliette Barnes, whether she realizes it or not, is trying to transform herself from a bubblegum teen sensation into the next Rayna James.

All of the singers and musicians in the show are struggling to produce quality music and to transform themselves in various ways. They are working, and struggling, in a creative profession.

Yes, there’s glitz, glamor and soap opera aspects to both of these shows, but I find it invigorating to watch shows about creative professionals…working. It’s such a novelty.

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