Theresa Rebeck made the transition from playwright to TV showrunner and got cancelled and canned by NBC for her trouble. But is no longer writing TV really a major disaster? Or even a minor one?
by Mitchell Sunderland
n her home office, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright—and creator of the cult hitSmash—Theresa Rebeck holds a figurine of small, anthropomorphized bears, all seated around a miniature table. The male animals look like TV writers; one even holds a pencil to his mouth.
“This is my table of dudes,” Theresa says. “It expresses my love and terror of the whole experience.”
“Did you use that on Smash?” I ask.
“You bet I did.”
Although Smash gained a large online following for its musical sequences and plotline about the backstage drama of a Broadway musical production, NBC executives fired Theresa after the first season wrapped in 2012. The news sparked a series of nasty articles blaming the writer for the TV drama’s production problems. Within a year of her departure, Theresa opened a play, Dead Accounts, on Broadway. Smash‘s second season ratings tanked, and NBC cancelled the show at the season’s close.
Now, Theresa is back again with a new book—her third novel, called I’m Glad About You. The book follows her traditional motif: exploring the subconscious world of performers. (Smash charts two actresses battle for the role of Marilyn Monroe, and Theresa’s earlier one-act, The Understudy, examines three actors at different levels of success.)
The new novel follows the aftermath of a Midwestern ingénue named Alison becoming infamous in New York. As she becomes well known, Alison finds her life unexpectedly interwoven with Kyle’s—a doctor from her hometown who hates his wife.
“I was drawn to the subject the way Chekhov was drawn towards writing about actresses. It becomes something where you know the psychology [of performers],” Theresa says. “For the past 20 years, I’ve had a lot of plays done in New York and I’ve done a lot of television. It’s the scene I swim in, so breaking out of that and writing about something else is actually challenging for me.”