Fox's Glee is slumping in its third season—but does that mean people are losing interest in TV musicals? NBC's new Broadway-focused drama, Smash, which premieres February 6, is about to find out. Three industry pros share tips on how Smash can avoid Glee's missteps and become, well, a smash.
Fault: The music comes first. Glee's story line gets lost in the show's inconsistent song list. "Some episodes work, like when the Gleeks sang Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way,'" says media consultant Shari Anne Brill. "But others, like the Madonna episode, were just about music with some story wedged in."
Fault: Youth is fleeting. Glee faces the challenge of finding new ways to revive the same old high-school archetypes, says Zak Shaikh of the media consultancy Attentional. "Once you hit some story lines—like the first time each character has sex—you can't go back."
Fault: Oversaturating the franchise. Concert tours and a reality-show spin-off caused Gleek fatigue to set in early. "The music used to draw you in, but it's getting a little tired because it's ubiquitous," says Brad Adgate of Horizon Media.
Fix: Make the characters the priority. NBC is banking on the show's masterful cast—which boasts Anjelica Huston and Debra Messing—to build characters viewers will care about. "The more Smash emphasizes the characters, the more stickiness the show will have," Brill says.
Fix: Use age to the show's advantage. Smash's older cast lends itself to more complex plot lines, a benefit in the long run, Shaikh says. "You can see the problems the characters face come out in the art they create. It's more sophisticated."
Fix: Create a cult following. Serialized dramas such as Lost and 24 have been wildly successful because networks treated them as special entities. "If Smash is going to be a hit, [NBC] has to make it a destination for viewers," Adgate says. "You don't want to kill the goose when it's a golden egg."
A version of this article appeared in the February 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.