"We try to write a good song that fits the musical, while also trying to make it about the characters on the TV show. It's a real juggling act," says Shaiman. "And a real Rubik's Cube: the amount of people who need to be in synch on this production is mind-boggling."
Those people also include choreographer Joshua Bergasse, who, each episode, masterminds two dance routines.
"Sometimes you get an idea, you get into the (rehearsal) studio the next day, and you shoot it the NEXT day," he says. "Choreograph, shoot it, move on the next one."
It all makes for a dazzling experience to watch. Elaborate production numbers are organically integrated into a melodramatic yet complex storyline. And unlike many eye-poppingly visual series, "Smash" can't rely on souped-up computer graphics.
"CGI is kind of easier," says Jack Davenport, noting that CGI post-production is handed off to its own team of specialists to complete. "We have to do all our staging for real — an hour of television every eight days."
With a little down time before his next scene, Davenport is chilling in his trailer dressing room, parked outside the theater on W. 176th Street.
His character has been a party to the series' realignment, which calls for making things lighter, a little more comic than last year. On the premiere, take a look at how last year's imperious lady-killer Derek has been humanized in a hilarious musical fantasy: A troupe of sexy women in a bar gang up on him as a mass rebuke to his chauvinist ways, to the tune of the Eurythmics' "Would I Lie to You?"
But just because "Smash" isn't scared to have fun doesn't mean it isn't close to the truth.
"To the untrained eye it might appear arch, high-camp, kind of over-the-top," says Davenport with a laugh. "Not in the slightest. This virtually is a documentary."
Furthermore, he notes, "Smash" is a perfect show for any viewer weary of TV violence.
"There is clearly a giant audience who loves watching people sift through the entrails of a murder victim," says Davenport, "and to each his own. But there's not a day that goes by on this show that I don't say to myself, 'Nobody has a gun!'"
Clearly, "Smash" sings a different tune.
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
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.