'Glee' to remain a rare bird on broadcast networks
Copycat disease still runs rampant in television — but one show and genre has developed an immunity.
Despite proving the industry could create a popular smallscreen musical, Fox’s “Glee” (which returns from its winter hiatus this week) didn’t inspire a single scripted TV tuner for any broadcast network this development season. In fact, there is no indication that any production team even presented the networks with a musical to consider.
In contrast, after fellow Peabody-award winner “Modern Family” of ABC became a breakout comedy success in 2009-10, development execs followed precedent, rightly or wrongly, and dove heavily into the sitcom pilot pool.
I heard a lot of people say, ‘Give us our version of “Modern Family” this year,” Twentieth Century Fox TV chairman Gary Newman says. “I didn’t hear anyone say, ‘Give us our version of “Glee.’ ”
There’s an exception to the trend — the Darren Star exec-produced “I’m Not Myself These Days” (about man who’s a power broker by day and drag queen by night), which is in development at Bravo. To hear Bravo development veep Cori Abraham talk about it, the network famous for “Top Chef” and “The Real Housewives” franchise doesn’t have any particular reason to be shy about songs.
Bravo is in the early stages of scripted development, period,” Abraham says. “I can’t say we’ve produced any scripted shows to this point. … (That it’s a musical) is sort of irrelevant to us at the moment.”
Everywhere else in the TV universe, however, the memories of failures like “Cop Rock” and “Viva Laughlin” remain strong. And so musicals remains programa non grata — even at Twentieth, the
studio behind the Ryan Murphy skein.
I think it has something to do with how specific and distinct it is, and how difficult it was to achieve,” Newman says. “There are, I’m sure, no more than a very small handful of people who could even aspire to merge the arts of storytelling and music (for TV).”
Newman compared the leap “Glee” made to the moment in the 1968 Summer Olympics when Bob Beamon broke the world long jump record by nearly two feet.
The one crazy moment when someone does something that no one can imagine doing,” Newman reflects.
I don’t want to short ‘Modern Family’ at all, but I think comedy writers … look at that and say, ‘I could do that too.’ The characters are incredibly well-drawn and incredibly well-cast — they’ve created a comedic dynamic that works fantastic — but … ‘I can do that too.’ Among the four networks, there must be 40 comedies that are trying to do that.”
The “I can do it” issue seems to be the main roadblock to more scripted musicals. There’s no sense conveyed by Newman or other insiders that there isn’t an appetite for the genre.
That makes “I’m Not Myself These Days” — inspired by the bestselling memoir by Josh Kilmer-Purcell — all the more intriguing for Bravo and Abraham, who sees a project that has the potential of making music with the network’s audience.
We are diving in with shows that make the most sense for us, that really hit our demographic,” Abraham says. “Stuff we think is interesting and noisy and smart.
There’s a lot about the book that feels right to us. It’s a really well-written character, a very complicated scenario … ”
The musical elements will be incorporated by Bollywood writer and director Sri Rao, working with writer Emily Branden. The tricky part is making the music generally feel organic, since many TV viewers seem to rebel when characters who have no business doing so break out in song, as they did in “Cop Rock” and “Viva Laughlin.”
It will be a very delicate balance,” Abraham says. “We want to make sure we have a great story with great characters that build … (so) it will feel natural when those musical moments come out.
It is about a man who has a double life as a drag queen at night, so there certainly will be organic opportunities for a character to perform in drag in his world. We haven’t really figured out if this is the only place we will have musical elements.”
Abraham’s network might be just right for a scripted series to take musical chances — at least, that’s what the writers of “Glee” seem to think. In an upcoming episode, Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Mercedes (Amber Riley) tell Jane Lynch’s Sue, “We make a culture.”
Sue’s response: “How do you two not have a show on Bravo?”