By Chuck Ross
As we get closer and closer to the broadcast network upfront presentations of next season’s shows, it seems instructive to see what’s worked this season, and why.
What has most stuck me is the phenomena of Fox’s “Glee.” And much of what I’ve thought was nailed by my good friend and former colleague when we were at Inside Media, Ed Martin.
Ed has been writing really smart reviews for Jack Myers for years now. The one that I’m referring to is titled,“ ‘Glee’ is Golden: Have Broadcast Executives Learned Anything from the Smash Success of Fox’s Hottest Show?”
In it Ed writes, “Fox set the stage for the convention-busting success of ‘Glee’ last May, when it ran the series’ first episode after the final competition between Adam Lambert and Kris Allen on Season 8 of ‘American Idol’ – four months before its official 2009-10 season premiere. Ratings that night weren’t as spectacular as Fox executives or the many gleeks among the nation’s television critics had hoped, but they were strong enough to generate big buzz and kick off an unprecedented wave of viewer-driven viral promotion over the summer.
“Looking back, the fact that Fox "allowed" the world to see the first episode of their bouncy new baby that far in advance marked a dramatic turnaround from the way network programmers and schedulers had always operated. Historically, nobody other than advertisers and journalists had been allowed such early exposure. I can’t help but wonder: Has the industry learned anything from the unique birth and subsequent growth of ‘Glee?’ ”
Ed was kind enough to spend a few minutes on the phone with me discussing this phenomena.
First, we talked about some of the other musical shows tried on TV that never worked, most particularly “Cop Rock” and “Hull High.”
“Cop Rock” was very well produced,” Ed said, “but I don’t think doing a serious drama laced with songs was a particularly good idea.”
“ ‘Hull High’ on the other hand was a good idea poorly executed,” Ed noted, saying he recently revisited that series again on the Internet.
“Glee” works for a number of reasons, Ed explained. First, the Disney “High School Musical” franchise helped pathe the way for the show. "Glee’ is well produced, especially the musical sequences, and Fox has given it smart promotion.
“So you have the timing element,” Ed said, “including both digital media and social media.” Thus one can experience the great songs outside of the show itself, plus the sharing and word-of-mouth that social media brings to the table.
Furthermore you have the passion of Ryan Murphy behind the camera. “Every great show I know of is really a passion project,” Ed said. “‘Glee’ is the heart and mind of Ryan.”
Ed also loves the way the show weaves in old songs—be they from Madonna or Olivia Newton John—and how the cast refreshes them anew. He’s also impressed with how the producers have unlocked the key to getting music rights for the show that doesn’t make the series cost prohibitive. “If ‘Glee’ and do it, I’d imagine other shows can too, so I’m looking forward to a more liberal use of music in programs moving forward, though I don’t know if it will actually lead to a revival of variety shows,” Ed said.
Looking forward, Ed hopes that producers can learn the lessons of “Glee” and come up with other compelling, like-minded shows. But he’s not optimistic. “Even the plotlines of ‘Glee’ were Grade C soap opera at first,” he notes. "And having seen all the clones of shows such as “Friends” and “Dawson’s Creek,” to just name two, as well as the ‘Lost’ wannabees, I’m not looking forward to the Glones.” #