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stage dive

Stage Dive: Smash vs. Glee, Fake Beef of the Week

Wait, I forget — are we the Jets or the Sharks?

It’s Monday morning, I’m bored, and Katharine McPhee has apparently been cast in NBC’s musical pilot Smash. You know what that means: Time for a Trumped-Up Rivalry!

I think we all know how these work: The media, industry executives, and various ad hoc Illuminati invent a beef between two superficially opposed camps, and then we all surf that hype to glory. Page views are generated, Kia ads are inadvertently watched, distraction is achieved, and oblivion kept at bay for another precious news cycle. The music business invented Fake Beef, and the movies — most notable, the Weinstein-Rudin axis of Oscar — perfected it. It’s high time that musical theater got into the game (via television). So I hereby fire the opening salvo in Glee vs. Smash. Oh, it’s on! (Because I say it is.)

Glee is ... well, you all know what Glee is: a highly rated, universally obsessed-over, high-steppin’ youth-crooner cult led by a charismatic Auto-Tune machine and backed by the all-powerful body-waxing industry. Whereas Smash is, at present, a Showtime pilot reborn at a fourth-place network, still unshot and possibly destined never to air — a mere gleam in executive producer Steven Spielberg’s eye, in other words. Glee is about high-school kids coming of age and singing about wheelchairs and being BFFs; Smash traces the production of a professional Broadway musical and apparently features a story arc about an ingenue who's sleeping her way to the top (yep, that’s McPhee’s part). Glee safely recycles pop and Broadway hits; Smash will generate an original score (at least, in its pilot) composed by Marc Shaiman (Hairspray, the forthcoming Catch Me If You Can) and thus risks the seemingly insuperable three-original-songs-a-week barrier last attempted by ... well, we dare not speak its name. (So let’s sing it.) Glee is the creation of seasoned TV producers; Smash is the brainchild of Broadway royalty: playwright Theresa Rebeck (Mauritius), director Michael Mayer (American Idiot), and Shaiman and his longtime lyricist, Scott Wittman. So apart from the whole singing-and-dancing thing, these two shows aren’t actually comparable. Yet the Mad Men in Burbank will insist they both aim for the same audience (upper-middle-income gay men who shop at Zabar’s, 13-year-old girls fighting monobrow disorders, and Barbra Streisand’s booking agent), and so, I say again: It is on. This will be one for the record books! A rumble in the Sequin Jungle! I hope!

That’s it for this week’s Trumped-Up Rivalry. Tune in next week when I pit Mandy Patinkin against a Mexican car horn.

Photo: Adam Rose/FOX