And now for something completely different from the inventive but deranged mind of Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy.
A lighthearted comedy musical series about teenagers that sounds like a cross between Freaks And Geeks and High School Musical? That’s right, and Murphy does it with Glee. The one-hour FOX series with a cast that includes the always hilarious Jane Lynch (pictured below) debuts with a primo time slot, Tuesday, May 19 at 9 p.m. ET/PT following the penultimate showing of this season’s American Idol.
FOX undoubtedly hopes to hold on to a major share of AI’s music-loving audience and leave it yearning for more. Because after Tuesday’s show, it won’t return to the network’s primetime lineup until the fall, at the same time on Wednesdays following So You Think You Can Dance.
Still, FOX has made a major promotional push to attract fans right now.
Murphy, the show’s executive producer, director, and writer, took part in a lengthy Q&A during a conference call conducted by FOX earlier this month. He was reluctant to reveal any huge surprises but said Glee will provide “something for everyone.” That will include cast performances of classic rock songs such as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”, which will be made available on iTunes (along with a rendition of Amy Winehouse’s more contemporary “Rehab”) the same day as the debut.
“The key to the music is to do stuff for the most part that people know, which is why I think so many people love American Idol because it’s musical comfort food in some way,” Murphy said.
Glee focuses on a group of nerds, misfits, social outcasts, ne’er-do-wells, and ragtag performers at McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio. They come together under the leadership of an optimistic teacher hoping to take this glee club to the top of the charts – well, at least as high as a bunch of Midwest teens can go anyway. It does for choir participants what Bring It On did for cheerleaders.
“The show really is about underdogs, and I think the key to the tone and the heart of the show is that people will love them because they are underdogs,” Murphy said.
And while Murphy says there will be between five to eight songs per episode, Glee isn’t all about the music. A steady dose of satire (think Alexander Payne’s Election) and drama will be thrown in, although Murphy hastens to add, “This is not a show you’d find on the CW.” (So don’t think Gossip Girl or One Tree Hill.)
Murphy still admits his sensibilities lean to the subversive, but don’t expect this show to cover the dark material that’s found in Nip/Tuck, his racy and over-the-top FX series about two plastic surgeon brothers. Mainstream America and FOX aren’t ready for that.
“I want to do a show that appeals to everybody,” Murphy said. “I’ve done a cable show and that to me was a big challenge. I’ve done sort of eight years of darkness and really adult stuff, and I was like, okay, I want to try something different. I want to do a show that has a bigger heart and is kinder, but make no mistake. It still has an edge, and (the network has) been supportive of that.”
With his previous series about high schoolers, 1999’s Popular, Murphy sharpened his rough edge while exploring the lives of two girls dealing with survival on opposite ends of the social scale. He doesn’t plan to repeat those themes either.
Murphy said Popular, which lasted two seasons on the WB, “was a satire that made fun of everything else on that network at the time” (think Dawson’s Creek) that the network never got. “But I always thought that that was sort of a culty, sort of darker thing that had a very cynical tone to it, and I don’t think this show does at all.”
So thinking those positive thoughts on Glee will be a largely unknown cast led by Matthew Morrison (above right), the former star of Broadway’s Hairspray who plays Will Schuester, the instructor rooting for his team to succeed against all odds. Another Broadway star, Spring Awakening’s talented Lea Michele, plays perfectionist Rachel Berry, who believes this is her opportunity to shine.
The most recognizable cast member might be Lynch, who has gone from brief appearances in Popular and Dawson’s Creek to splendid supporting roles in wry Christopher Guest films such as Best in Show and A Mighty Wind to uproarious turns in raucous comedies such as The 40 Year Old Virgin and Role Models. She currently is part of the excellent ensemble cast of Starz’s Party Down, an underrated series that takes an amusing and often bawdy look at a group of caterers (if you can imagine that) and their clientele.
When the casting process began, Murphy admitted he had his eye on hiring Lynch, who plays coach Sue Sylvester of the Cheerios, her “awesome” cheerleading squad. “I’ve always loved working with her, and she’s very, very funny,” Murphy said. “The funny thing about that role was, it was a very, very small role when we did the pilot, and it was put in the pilot just to give Will a foil, like somebody to sort of butt against."
“Then what happened was we did the pilot, and she sort of sewed that character … leapt off the screen, I thought, and people loved her so much that we said to her, ‘Would you like to enlarge the part and be a series regular?’ and she loved that idea, so we did. But it really just came from shooting it and seeing it and seeing how good she was in the part. It sort of grew.”
Lynch, perhaps speaking as Sylvester, sung the praises of her would-be show-stoppers (such as Michele's Berry, left) during a recent FOX promotional interview. “These kids in our Glee Club, they look like the outcasts and the misfits but they’ve got such light and they’ve got wonderful voices,” she said. “And you can see how in high school they probably wouldn’t have been looked at twice and maybe even beaten up. But they’ve got this great talent and when they’re finally singing a song they choose for themselves, and they actually work on the choreography, they work on their musical parts, and when they perform it, they’re just in their power and in their element. … And they’re all so shiny and bright and you get to see these are really, really special kids who shouldn’t be treated so badly by the other ones.”
So will the accomplished Lynch, who sung and played guitar on A Mighty Wind, get a chance to go to the head of this class act as a song-and-dance woman? While she hinted at that possibility, a cautious Murphy would only offer, “You probably won’t hear Jane Lynch sing, but we are currently shooting an episode where Jane Lynch does a fantastic 1940’s dance. You will see her cut a rug.”
That alone will be worth waiting for this fall.
• Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele photos by Carin Baer/FOX
• Jane Lynch photo by Matthias Clamer/FOX
• See a promotional video of Glee, with cast members performing “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” below: