'Tis the season of the showrunner shakeup. NBC's Community and Smash are both getting new showrunners to address their various problems (non-stellar ratings, mainly) while the creator of HBO's spooky sexpot saga True Blood is handing off the reins to another writer. It's all good drama for the trades, but do these shakeups actually make a difference?
Word came down from on high today that NBC's Smash, a once-hyped, now troubled musical show about musical theater, is undergoing yet another shakeup. It was revealed back in March that creator/showrunner Teresa Rebeck would be leaving the series (she was at one point supposed to stay on as an executive producer, but it seems now that she's leaving entirely), with Gossip Girl writer Josh Safran stepping in as replacement, and now the show has jettisoned four actors.
Say goodbye to Ellis, Frank, Dev, and Michael, because the four actors who play them — Jaime Cepero, Brian d'Arcy James, Raza Jaffrey, and Will Chase — have been given the ol' heave-ho. That news is probably a relief to most regular viewers of the show, as these four unfortunate dudes represent some of the least popular storylines on the series. Evil Ellis was a bore who never really made sense as a character, and all the personal relationship stuff with Deb Messing's husband and paramour, and Kat McPhee's dull mayor's office lackey boyfriend, irksomely distracted from the backstage dramz that fuels the show. So we're happy to hear that they'll all be gone (obviously not happy that the actors are now unemployed, sorry guys) and hope that means we'll get a more streamlined, focused season two. Though, the ascendancy of Josh Safran gives us pause. In case you haven't noticed (and for your sake we hope you haven't), Gossip Girl isn't exactly the most well-paced, narratively satisfying show on the air. Will Safran bring that show's same scattered, plotline slash-and-burning technique to Smash? We're not quite sure that's what the doctor ordered.
NBC sure hopes it is, though. A pet of new programming chief Bob Greenblatt when he was over at Showtime, Smash got a second season renewal almost immediately, but will wait until midseason next year to return. That's likely so NBC can debut its fancy new pilots without all the old shows cluttering up the joint, but it also smartly gives Smash a long time to retool and figure out why such a fun, fizzy concept — music! dance! backstage bitchery! — turned into such a heavy, unwieldy snoozefest. We wanted grownup Glee, but instead we got Sisters with showtunes. So here's hoping that NBC's big change-up pays off and doesn't derail the thing entirely.
NBC also canned Community commander Dan Harmon amid great uproar last week. Their reasons for the controversial (relatively speaking, anyway) firing were more cynical than creative; Harmon is notoriously fastidious about his show and refused to make a more commercial product, which is what NBC wanted, obviously. So the question with Community isn't "Can this change improve the show?" it's "Can the show still be any good?" Well, OK, we could debate with you Communityheads out there about whether the show was really that good to begin with, but that's a conversation for another day. Regardless of your personal level of fandom, though, it will still be interesting to see how the show's rabid cult following responds to the impending Harmon-less season. (We picture pitchforks and trebuchets.)
Another show with a fervent fan base that's losing its head guy, though this time for simple and amicable reasons, is True Blood, which just replaced creator Alan Ball with Mark Hudis, who's been staffed on the show since last season. Ball just wanted to move on and his departure was always part of his contract, so presumably the transition shouldn't be rough. And anyway, True Blood is a great big country monster mash anyway, so who will really notice if the DJ changes mid-party? Of course one can hope that this new guy will maybe, oh y'know, make the show actually funny and scary and sexy and all that stuff it's supposed to be instead of the cluttered parade of Sookie grimaces and nonsense stories (everything on the show is nonsense, but demon-fairies are extra nonsense) that it's turned into. But probably by this point True Blood has gotten too bulbous for anyone, Ball or otherwise, to reduce it back to manageable size. Anyway, Hudis wouldn't be making any changes until next season (not the one coming next month), which HBO hasn't even officially announced yet. So, we won't know until summer 2013, but by that point we'll probably all be dead anyway so oh well.
It is interesting to see networks shuffle the deck chairs instead of just outright ridding themselves of a troubled or long-in-the-tooth show, and we're eager to see, especially in the cases of Smash and Community, how it all plays out. Will the crazy fans revolt and destroy? Resign themselves and embrace? Some strange mix of the two? We'll have to stay tuned to find out, which, sigh, is probably the whole point.