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Sunday, May 17, 2009

The "Glee" Creator: It's a show with "attitude, but also heart"

If you’re a fan of “American Idol,” then you’ve seen the promos for the new FOX show, “Glee.”

FOX is doing something a little unheard of in the world of television. They’re showing the “Glee” pilot in May, but we won’t see the rest of the season until the fall.

A couple of weeks ago, “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy, who also created “Nip/Tuck,” did a conference call with reporters where he gave us the lowdown on the show, the music and the major plans FOX has for the show…

“The thing about the show is it’s a one-hour comedy so it’s an interesting show tonally. It’s not a show you’d find on The CW. It’s a little more mature than that,” Murphy said.

“The show really is about underdogs. People will love [the characters] because they are underdogs. It’s a show with a lot of heart and a lot of kindness, but it does have its weird elements. I wanted it to have attitude but also heart.”

As the official FOX synopsis says, the show “follows an optimistic high school teacher as he tries to transform the school’s Glee Club and inspire a group of ragtag performers to make it to the biggest competition of them all: Nationals.”

The show is set in Lima, Ohio (which you know I love). Murphy, who grew up in Indianapolis, said he spent a lot of time going to Kings Island with his family. He remembers hearing on one trip about some tornadoes in Lima. “The town has stuck in my head.”

Murphy said he considered a musical episode of “Nip/Tuck,” but instead did this. “I’ve done eight years of darkness [with “Nip/Tuck”], I want to do something different. I want to do a show that appeals to everybody.”

It would be easy to think that Murphy is going for another “High School Musical,” but that’s not his intention at all. “I’ve never seen ‘High School Musical.’ I admire it, but we were never trying to do something like it. High school is the metaphor, high school is not what [“Glee”] is about,” he said.

“The key for this show is I wanted to do sort of a post-modern musical. If they’re going to sing, it will be done on stage or in the rehearsal room. The fantasy is rooted on stage. When you start mixing stuff is when people get confused.” Murphy admits he was inspired by “American Idol.”

With five to eight musical numbers per episode, the music is very key. So how is it chosen? “It really just comes down to stuff that I like. My goal is to give the audience something for everybody.” Later he added, “The key to the music is to do stuff that people know. It’s musical comfort food in a way.”

If you’ve seen the commercials, you know that one of the songs in the premiere is Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” “I liked the idea of 16-year-old kids interpreting [that song]. Steve Perry has been very supportive. We’re hoping he’ll make some promotional appearances.”

Because of the music, Murphy cast a lot of singers, dancers and Broadway people. In fact, Murphy and his crew cast for three months with the support of FOX to travel around the country to audition people. “Everybody who got those parts really earned them.” Murphy said that Lea Michele (“Spring Awakening”) and Jane Lynch (“Best In Show,” “Role Models” and numerous TV shows) were two people he had his “eyes on early.”

“I loved that sort of character for Jane.” Murphy said her character was originally just meant to be a bit part, but it has expanded since the pilot. “It really just came from shooting it and seeing it and seeing how good she was.”

As for guest stars, “We’ve been very specific that if we’re going to stunt cast, it has to be wildly talented people like Victor Garber and Kristin Chenoweth.”

So does Murphy have a theater background himself? Yes, as does one of his two other fellow writers. “When you do get the lead, you feel like the world is suddenly available to you.”

With all of the music involved, the idea of a soundtrack was bound to come up. And that’s when Murphy started to unveil some of the numerous plans that FOX has for the show. They’re planning a series of albums—one every couple of months—and the songs will be available immediately each night on iTunes. Murphy revealed that the soundtrack was bid on by seven different companies, which is a definite sign of the positive buzz surrounding the show.

“It’s so funny the life this thing already has.” Murphy said there have already been offers for a “Glee” movie, a Broadway show, and an ice show.

So how does Murphy feel about the opportunity FOX has given him by airing a “preview” of the show after “Idol” on Tuesday night? At first, he wasn’t so sure as he originally felt “I like that you believe in it so much but it does bother me that it would be off the air for four months. But it’s a preview. The thing that sold me on it is that it’s going to be on after the penultimate episode of ‘American Idol.’” Murphy said he also liked that the episode can be downloaded all summer and that the music will be available in August.

“It seemed very sort of brave and like nothing that had ever been done before. It’s slowly getting people to watch it in a way that’s original.”

For the episode we’ll see on Tuesday, two or three scenes had to be cut in order to fit the timeslot. But in September, we’ll see the director’s cut of the episode.

So what else will be in store for us when the show returns in the fall? Murphy said the first five episodes will focus on the hunt for more Glee Club members since they only have six and they need 12 for Nationals. Kristin Chenoweth will first appear in episode four or five and Murphy hopes her character will be recurring. No word on when we’ll see Victor Garber first appear.

But before any of that happens, there’s Tuesday’s preview of the pilot. I’ll have a review for you later today…

Photo Credit: Patrick Ecclesine/FOX