2012 was not too kind to Park Slope resident Theresa Rebeck. The playwright and Pulitzer Prize finalist had taken a new gig, as creator, head writer, and showrunner of NBC’s Smash. Billed as a West Wing-approach to Broadway, Smash was supposed to be NBC’s golden ticket to pull the network up from their fourth place network spot. But despite getting not-so-bad ratings, the show quickly became prime hate-watching television due to its awful characters, ludicrous plot points, and laughable modern musical numbers.
When the show ended its first season in May, Rebeck was quickly removed as showrunner for Season 2. May also saw the closing of Rebeck’s 2011 comedy, Seminar, due to low ticket sales without recouping its investment. And although Rebeck would have another play open at the end of November, that didn’t going very well either. Dead Accounts – the Katie Holmes “I divorced Tom Cruise and now I’m focusing on my work” play – announced in December it would close on January 6 – seven weeks ahead of schedule. The play received mixed-to-negative critical reviews, didn’t recoup its investment, and was one of the lowest grossing shows on Broadway in the fall. To say 2012 sucked for Rebeck would probably be putting it nicely.
Unfortunately, 2013 isn’t looking too good for Rebeck either. Yesterday, BuzzFeed published a scathing article titled “How ‘Smash’ Became TV’s Biggest Train Wreck,’ in which they basically crucified Rebeck and blamed her entirely for Smash’s demise. The piece’s author, Katie Aurthur, spoke with “more than a half-dozen people who worked on the first season” – all of whom threw major shade towards Rebeck. The piece describes Rebeck as “a creator with aggressive convictions” who created ‘a show with obvious, worsening problems and [wouldn’t] listen to anyone else” to fix said problems. The show became “a dictatorship” – with Rebeck ruling from above. According to the piece, Rebeck, having only written for a handful of shows and despite not having any show-running experience, clashed with her fellow, more experienced writers. She shut everyone out of the writing process, and deeply resented executive producer David Marshall Grant – an experienced writer and show-runner who was supposed to guide her, but who Rebeck supposedly saw as her replacement.
The anonymous sources called her “paranoid,” “a terror.” They said she “had no people skills and no desire to smooth things over with anyone.” They prayed the network would stop Rebeck. At one point, they compared her to “a Mack Truck.” This quote probably describes it best:
"She was prone to screaming," said one person. "She would crow about her fights. She sees herself as a victim. It is common for a showrunner to feel victimized — she's not the first. She would retell a lot of the fights, and it was a little tricky to know who was to blame.
These sources blamed her for all the show’s problems – Julia’s adoption storyline, Ellis’ scheming, the bad modern-day musical numbers. Heck, they even blamed her for the casting problems of Jaime Cepero and Emory Cohen! It was all her fault!
They compared her firing to “the assassination in Julius Ceasar.”
You should give it a read. It’s really quite a fascinating character assault.
Here’s what I find most interesting though. If you’ve ever worked with someone who then left your company, you’ll know it’s easy to blame them for the messes they’ve left behind. No matter what level that person is on – from boss to assistant – it’s always their fault. “This project is a mess because so and so didn’t manage it properly.” “The decisions that so and so made were so bad that they’ve left us in this awful place.” I swear, it happens every time. And the thing is, no matter how good of a worker you think you are, when you leave your job, they’ll say it about you too.
It’s easy to blame the person who’s not around anymore for all of your problems. Theresa Rebeck is a woman who worked under enormous pressure. She may not have had the experience to do the job she needed to do, but everyone knew that going in. And yet they still put her there. Was she hard to work with? Probably. Was she tough on her team? Definitely. Did it lead to a great show? Not so much. But is she the cause of all the problems? It's not like Aaron Sorkin is being replaced because everybody loved to hate-watch the first season of Newsroom.
We’re sorry this sucks so hard, Theresa. If you want to grab a drink in the ‘hood anytime, let us know.