PREVIEW: Five Things to Expect From Smash

NBC's much hyped Smash finally premieres tonight, although I'm betting a lot of you have already seen it. It's been available for free on practically every video site imaginable (iTunes, Netflix, Roku, Xfinity, Hulu, etc) -- NBC is really throwing their weight behind this thing, as well they should. Smash is fun and entertaining. It has a stellar cast and production values, and the potential to be a huge hit for NBC if enough people tune in. So for those of you who haven't caught its numerous previews, here's a little something to whet your interest:

5. A large, talented cast. Smash follows the production of Marilyn: The Musical from conception to stage. From veteran Broadway writers Julia Houston (Debra Messing) and Tom Levitt (Christian Borle), to sleazy but talented director Derek Willis (Jack Davenport) and producer Eileen Rand (Anjelica Huston), to the musical's two potential stars Ivy Lynn (Broadway's Megan Hilty) and Karen Cartwright (American Idol's Katharine McPhee) and almost everyone else in between -- Smash already seems to be pretty epic in scope.

4. Original songs, original story. Early in the pilot, Debra Messing's character laments that nobody writes original stories anymore, and it's for that reason that Smash feels like a breath of cool air. It's an original story about people trying to create an original story. So while we watch these people put this musical together, we also get to see that story and those songs right along with them. It's double the pleasure. (It's also one of the most original things NBC has done in years.)

3. Lots of behind the scenes drama -- lots of drama, period. Smash is equal parts behind the scenes musical drama and melodramatic character piece. Expect lots of conflict about casting decisions (see below), production decisions, and the like, and also lots of drama about boyfriends, husbands, lovers and other standard dramatic fare. What's nice about this is the two balance each other out, and they mix together nicely. As the season goes on, I fully expect to see lots of personal lives being hopelessly entangled with the high-stress of putting on a Broadway show.

2. A whole heckuva lot of Marilyn. I'll confess right up front that I know almost nothing about Marilyn Monroe, but I can already tell that if I stick with Smash, that's going to change, both because the show is determined to educate us and give us as much Marilyn as possible, and because the show has piqued my curiosity, which means I'll track some stuff down on my own. We can also expect lots of Glee-style emphasis on singles from the show (something that has the potential to be a cash cow for the ailing NBC). On top of that, Smash is actually the brainchild of Steven Spielberg, and man does that guy have his hands in everything these days. One of his original plans for the series was that if the show was a hit, he would turn it into an actual Broadway musical. So in theory, we might have more tie-in consumer products than we know what to deal with.

1. McPhee vs. Hilty. The central conflict of the show's first season is this: who to cast as our Marilyn, innocent and captivating Idaho rube Karen Cartwright (McPhee), or Broadway vet and Marilyn doppelgänger Ivy Lynn (Hilty). Hilty is best known for her role as Glinda in Wicked, and McPhee was discovered on American Idol in 2006. She has been floating around Hollywood for years now, taking bit parts, and this is her first starring role. Both women are great in Smash -- in McPhee's case, surprisingly great -- and a large part of the fun in Smash will be rooting for (or against) the two of them. (I already think it's going to cause me some sort of breakdown because I like both of them, and want both of them to have the role.) So, who will it be, internets? And will you tune in?

Smash premieres tonight on NBC at 10 p.m. after The Voice.