In its first season, ‘‘Smash’’ won praise but also a helping of jeers and snark. Despite lavish production values and robust original songs, some viewers complained that the show was hackneyed and cartoonish.
But it was noticed, and by malcontents no less than by admirers. And with some shrewd tweaking, it returns in early February for a singing, dancing second season.
‘‘Smash’’ depicts a world Greenblatt clearly loves and understands. In his spare time in 2009, he produced the Tony Award-nominated musical adaptation of ‘‘9 to 5.’’
‘‘I'm a producer at heart,’’ he said. ‘‘I get really excited about The Show’’ — whether it’s on Broadway or, more typically, his network.
Greenblatt boils down his background this way: a gay, Catholic kid with a Jewish last name who grew up in rural Rockford, Ill. There, as a youngster, he got deeply involved in theater.
Neither acting nor directing caught his fancy. Along with playing the piano for musicals, he chose to serve as stage manager, the equivalent of producing.
‘‘My dream as a teenager was to run a movie studio, as in the old studio system,’’ he said.
But that Tinseltown era was long gone. Television represented the modern version of the Hollywood ‘‘dream factory’’ where he could produce or present the shows that got him excited.
These included shows that gave gay characters a significant presence, from ‘‘Six Feet Under,’’ where one of the sons of the funeral-home family was a gay man (played by Michael C. Hall) in a stable same-sex relationship, to this season’s NBC comedy ‘‘The New Normal,’’ about a gay couple who arrange for a surrogate mom to bear their child.
‘‘But there was never any conscious gay agenda,’’ Greenblatt said. ‘‘I've just always been a proponent of having a lot of diversity in the shows I've done.’’ Among those series he produced, he counts a Latino drama, a black drama and four black sitcoms. ‘‘I just think that’s the world we live in.’’
Today, the world Greenblatt lives in as the boss of NBC is a complicated place. It’s a media realm with multiplying platforms and once-time-honored rules in continuous flux.
So how does anyone in charge keep his footing on this changing landscape? By staying focused, Greenblatt said.
‘‘The assignment I was given when I came here was to try and revive a broadcast network,’’ he explained. ‘‘I'm happy if people watch our shows on mobile devices and iPads, as long as we get paid for them. The word ‘broadcast’ can certainly expand to all those other ways of watching. But right now, the most efficient way for us to get paid for our programming is over-the-air broadcast. So that’s our No. 1 goal: to try to get people to come watch on the air.’’
The message seems to be sinking in. NBC may be moving beyond its status as an also-ran and as a punch line (routinely mocked even by its own shows, including seven seasons of ‘‘30 Rock"). Indeed, this fall NBC was the lone Big Four network seeing year-to-year gains, while the others suffered losses.
Is NBC’s revival necessarily at the expense of other networks? For Greenblatt, it’s tempting to see the TV world in ecological terms, where any network on the brink of extinction is a threat to the entire biosphere, and where any growth is good for all.
‘‘I think it’s just healthy for our business,’’ said Greenblatt, ‘‘if there’s another strong network.’’
EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier