Music supervisor Bloom plays key role for hit series

Music supervisor PJ Bloom had worked with writer-director-producer Ryan Murphy on the series “Popular” and “Nip/Tuck” and the film “Running With Scissors.” But Bloom was bemused when Murphy told him about his new project.

He recalls: “Ryan said, ‘We’re going to do an episodic musical on show choir.’ I said, ‘Jeez, I’m really not all that familiar with what show choir is.’ So he sat me down in front of his computer and went on YouTube and started pulling up the video on show choirs from around the country, doing pop songs, classic songs. I had really never seen anything like it, and in all honesty I wasn’t sure whether it was the greatest thing I’d ever seen or the worst thing I’d ever seen.”

But Bloom signed on, and Murphy’s Fox series “Glee” became one of the biggest new hits of the 2009-10 TV season, the launching pad for a top-10 hit album and spawning ground for a procession of top iTunes tracks.

It is an unexpected hit since music-driven TV dramas have historically flopped.

“?’Cop Rock’ was an epic failure, ‘Viva Laughlin’ was an epic failure,” Bloom notes. “I’m not sure that anyone can believe the Los Angeles Police Department breaks into song as they’re fighting crime, or necessarily believe casino workers break into song in the middle of the gaming industry in Laughlin, Nev. We have high school glee club competition, and you can believe that environment.”

Securing clearances for the deftly integrated “Glee” tunes performed by the members of William McKinley High’s glee club New Directions was initially no easy matter.

“We had this uphill battle of trying to license some of the biggest songs in the world by the biggest artists in the world for an episodic musical that nobody had ever seen. And this type of show has failed miserably.”

Nailing the rights for Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” was a struggle, but its appearance in the pilot episode helped produce the show’s best-selling iTunes track to date.

“You were battling (writer/ex-vocalist) Steve Perry’s concerns about how his music is exploited,” Bloom says. “You were battling the band’s inner turmoil. It took everyone’s efforts — mine, (Fox executive in charge of music) Geoff Bywater, all the publicity people, the promo people — to develop an overall campaign to convince Steve Perry and the band to be involved. And it really has become the signature song moment of the show.”

Neil Diamond’s skittishness about licensing his “SweetCaroline” almost ended in catastrophe, Bloom says: “There was a late-breaking moment where they actually retracted the clearance, which was a potential nightmare — we’d already shot it, and had they stuck to their position, it would have been an absolute disaster on multiple levels. But I was able to get it turned back around.”

Diamond later announced his delight with the “Glee” performance on Twitter, and, Bloom adds, “when we came back recently for (Diamond’s composition) ‘Hello Again,’ it was pushed right through.”

John Lennon’s rock anthem “Imagine” also proved a tough clearance, but it resulted in a dramatically potent November episode.

Bloom says, “It was very difficult to convince Yoko Ono that it was the right thing to do. She needed to truly understand how the music was going to be used. The added component of us wanting to have a deaf choir signing the song made for this incredibly poignant moment. …It really took a lot of convincing to get her on board and realize that it was a great, great moment, and a tribute to John and his song.”

Bloom collaborates with Ryan and his team on all song choices.

Says the music supervisor, “It all starts with Ryan and the writers in the writing room. The writers develop a storyline, and often those songs will stem from those storylines. Ryan will have thematic ideas for the show. He’ll pick a theme for an episode, or some moral or ethical message, or there’ll be some subplot that will dictate the type of songs that he wants to use.

“He will pick my brain with regard to songs that may fall in that category, and I’ll give him a broad list of songs that speak lyrically to the story that he’s trying to develop, or artists that speak to the story that he’s trying to develop.”

Fans’ desire for “Glee” music remains unabated, and Columbia Records is issuing a second soundtrack album this week. But Bloom maintains the show’s appeal extends beyond its engaging versions of familiar pop smashes.

“It’s not just the music — you have characters that touch everyone,” the music supervisor says. “You look at shows like ’90210′ or ‘Melrose Place’ or ‘Gossip Girl’ — all of the characters in these shows are gorgeous, they’re all beautiful people who matriculate in beautiful environments and drive in beautiful cars and live in beautiful homes. That’s not our reality. Our reality exists in a relatively low-income part of Ohio. We’re talking about somewhat impoverished kids, and they’re not always the best-looking. These are all very real characters, and these are cross-sections of the true America. I think people are able to make that connection.”

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