Watching the pilot of NBC's Smash earlier this week - which I enjoyed much more than I expected to, even if I suspect that it's not going to hold up well in the ratings now that everyone's had a taste - I found myself wondering about the statute of limitations when it came to bandwagon jumping. After all, Smash is pretty much "Glee for grown-ups" - but hasn't the Golden Age of Glee been over for at least a year?
Perhaps Smash took longer to develop and get on the air because of its format - which mixes new songs into the familiar material + elaborate staged routines + camp soap operatics formula of the hit Fox show - but it feels as if it's a show that should've debuted this time in 2011, in time to take advantage of people's growing feeling that Glee had peaked with its first season, instead of a show debuting at a time when a lot of people have already jumped ship, bored of repetition and ridiculousness. Maybe I'm misremembering the development time of other such bandwagons, but don't we normally get the "Oh, you like that…? Maybe you'll like this" shows the fall after the hit, not two falls and a midseason?
The timing of such things is important, of course; by swooping in earlier, you run the risk of competing with the original hit when it's in the full flush of its success - Shows tend to peak in ratings a little bit after their buzz peaks, traditionally, so it's possible for shows that are past their prime creatively to be rewarded with their best viewerships merely because it's taken that long for the hype and adoration to reach certain people who aren't plugged into every new thing that's happening - and being decimated as a result (See: All of those attempts at "The Next Lost" that debuted during that show's run. Anyone remember Threshold?). But leaving it awhile has its own problems: Will the audience be ready for something that reminds them of the original rush that [Original Hit Show] gave them, or will they have moved on to something new altogether? Have you waited long enough that your show doesn't feel like a knock-off, but not waited so long that it seems like yesterday's news…? And so on.
(For what it's worth, I think that Smash clearly comes from Glee DNA, but comes at everything from enough of a different angle - I hesitate to call it a more mature angle, but certainly one that's less obsessed with high school drama - to be worth looking at by those who like musicals but don't enjoy Glee. Whether it's yesterday's news or not - well, not yet, given the premiere ratings, but we'll see how the show fares without the Super Bowl hype in future; I worry that it's too camp for mainstream America, although that didn't seem to hurt Glee in any way…)
Somewhere, there's someone arguing that the way to deal with accusations of (or concerns about the timing of) bandwagon jumping is to just not jump on any bandwagons in the first place, but I'm not completely convinced about that; I'm of the mindset that we get great stuff - and occasionally, important leaps forward in pop culture - from people trying to do what someone else had found success with in their own voice (See: the Beatles, Battlestar Galactica's origins, Marvel Comics, etc.). Instead, the trick would appear to be to take inspiration from whatever's current and popular and use that inspiration well; put your best foot forward, and hope that your timing is such that enough people can understand what you're up to without seeing it as a nothing more than a rip-off. But timing is central to that, I think. We just need to work out what the perfect timing actually is.