What ‘Smash’ Can Learn from Davy Jones and ‘The Monkees’

For many of us who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, the death of Davy Jones is bittersweet. As we mourn along with his family, friends, and millions of fans, we reflect on the joy this talented, charismatic man brought into our lives.

It is also a reminder of what it takes to create a lasting TV legacy and how a memorable personality adds so much to a show. “The Monkees,” and Mr. Jones, were a great example of what happens when an audience falls in love with you. A simple formula of mixing the right actors, blended together with sharp writing and warm, relateable characters can bring huge ratings success.

“Hey, Hey, We’re The Monkees”

Inspired by the wonderful Beatles’ film “A Hard Day’s Night,” and with a hunger to break into Hollywood, aspiring filmmakers Robert Rafelson and Bert Schneider set out to create a show about a rock ‘n roll band. After taking out ads in the Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety seeking “musicians-singers for roles in a new television series,” Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith were cast, and a TV show and musical group were born.

“The Monkees,” which aired on NBC from 1966-1968, received two Emmy nominations, including one for Outstanding Comedy Series. The show was funny, featured catchy pop songs and there were plenty of insider jokes and jabs, which you didn’t really appreciate until years later in reruns.

From dismal to dazzling

One of the more interesting stories about the iconic ’60s program centers on a test screening. The initial audience reaction of the pilot episode for “The Monkees” were pretty dismal, so two days later, prior to a second preview, the producers had the idea to run clips of Davy Jones’ and Mike Nesmith’s original screen tests, which showcased their charming personalities and natural sense of humor. The results were outstanding and fans loved the TV show. To this day, the amusing persona of The Monkees, as individuals and as a group, is what made the program and songs an endearing pop culture favorite.

A “Smashing” personality disorder

While the classic musical comedy, based around a fictional band, was fueled by easy chemistry and loosely scripted dialogue, “Smash,” the story of a fictitious Broadway production, is a good show, but it suffers from a personality disorder, which could result in a short-lived run.

“The Monkees” and “Smash” both feature original music, and a solid concept. While one was quirky and upbeat, the other tries too hard and takes itself too seriously. One of the reasons why “Smash” is not attracting a much wider viewing audience is because the characters are not very likeable. They come across as self-absorbed, dull and often times desperate. It’s not so much the fault of the actors, but rather a flaw with the writing and casting.

Knowing your audience A-B-C’s

The idea behind “Smash” is intriguing, and with the brilliant mind of Steven Spielberg, and impressive Broadway credentials from the executive producers, you expect more character development and stronger, less predictable storylines.

Perhaps if the production team behind “Smash” did more test screenings and less advertising prior to casting a couple lead roles, the show would deliver better ratings, and viewers would care more about these talented performers.

Learning from the “Daydream Believer”

Whether goofing around on “The Monkees,” guest starring as Marcia’s prom date on “The Brady Bunch” or delighting fans on a Broadway stage, Davy Jones was all about the wit, big personality, and having fun. He knew how to carry on a decades-long love affair between star and fan – he will surely be missed.

It would be good to see more of this style of old-fashioned entertainment taking place today. While a modern-day show like “Smash” has a lot to offer, there are lessons to be learned from classic TV and veteran performers – ratings gold can be achieved using simple ingredients – chemistry, likeability and a lot of heart that shines forth from the writing, directing, and acting.

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