Steven Spielberg's upcoming NBC TV venture, Smash, suggests a whole new future for the story-within-a-story device. Due to air in the UK on Sky Atlantic later this year and starring Anjelica Houston, Debra Messing, and Katharine McPhee, this comedy drama, which premieres in the US on 6 February, presents the backstage politics behind the production of, and the drama of the production process of, a fictional Broadway show about Marilyn Monroe.
It centres on the two actresses – Karen (American Idol's McPhee) and Ivy (Broadway star Megan Hilty) – competing for the coveted lead role. But, if rumours running around Hollywood are anything to go by, rather than bending back on itself like a self-parodying Shakespearean comedy, Smash is about to divide and multiply, like an all-singing, all-dancing amoeba undergoing binary fission.
Here's the prediction; the fictional Marilyn musical will be transformed into an actual Broadway show if/when the series is a hit. Then future TV series can focus on new fictional musicals which can then also spiral off to form other Broadway shows.
Lyricist Marc Shaiman and composer Scott Wittman (Hairspray) have written 15 original songs for the show-within-a-show, which is plenty of material for a musical.
"That's a romantic notion that we all think about," said NBC entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt, according to Newsweek magazine. Greenbelt, who brought Smash from Showtime, also helped adapt the film 9 to 5 onto the stage. "I don't think you'll see a real Broadway version of Marilyn: The Musical for a long time, if ever. I hope I'm not a dream killer."
But whether there is a Broadway spin-off or not, NBC and Columbia Records have already agreed to a Glee-style recording-rights deal for the soundtrack of the TV series and there's even a record deal for McPhee.
Of course, producers have been unwilling to confirm their future plans for entertainment world domination, but, on the subject of impending rumours about future plans for spin-off shows, creator and executive producer Theresa Rebeck told the LA Times: "What we are aiming to do right now is write a great TV show.
"Whatever happens in the future, who knows? We could all die tomorrow."
'Smash' will air on Sky Atlantic this year (skyatlantic.sky.com)