It happens sometimes – the dream turns into a nightmare. Getting a series on the air is a major high. Getting thrown off it, OTOH….
What Came Next
by Theresa Rebeck
So I’m walking to a rehearsal in Midtown, and my agent calls me.
He runs me through one thing and another, and then he gets down to it. Had I heard that Steven Spielberg had set up a project at Showtime, a TV series about backstage at a Broadway musical?
“They want you to write it,” he informed me. “Mr. Spielberg read one of your plays over the weekend, and he called this morning to say that he is infatuated.”
Let me tell you something. When Steven Spielberg calls your agent to say he is infatuated with your writing, that is a good day. The saga of what came next is so long and complicated it would take a book to write it all out. Sometimes I think of writ- ing that book and sometimes I think that writing that book and reliving the whole thing would be somewhat akin to shooting myself in the head. But we’ll get to that.
So I took the job, I wrote the pilot, I created all the characters, I nurtured it through a transition from Showtime to NBC, I produced the pilot, and the show got picked up for an order of seventeen episodes. I was the show runner of the first season, which got terrific numbers and established itself immediately as an international sensation. The show was called Smash.
At the end of the first season, I was fired without cause. No one likes being fired, and guess what, I am no exception. As the dust settled, it became clear that at the management level a lot of dastardly stories had been invented about my character. Sometimes I try to parse them and fit them all back together; I have been, at times, desperate to figure out what actually happened. There was a destructive and incoherent madness to it that resists interpretation.
Mr. Spielberg, to give him much credit, called me the day I was fired and apologized. He told me that he blamed himself. He felt that the politics had gotten way out of hand, and they wouldn’t have if he had been around more. He was probably right.
And, of course, as soon as I was fired, all the men who had conspired to have me removed from my post realized that the show wasn’t going to survive without me and so they slunk away and went off to do other things.
The network then hired a whole bunch of other people to run it in my stead, and it fell apart, and one year after I had made that show into a bona fide hit, it was canceled.
Everyone told me the best thing to do was ignore it and put it behind me.
Then I couldn’t get hired for three years.
Then I fired my lawyer and I fired my manager and I fired my agent…..