As show hits 100 episodes, creators and cast look at groundbreaking series
One of the best nights of Brad Falchuk’s life unfolded at Fenway Park last October. It was game two of the American League Championship Series — Red Sox vs. the Detroit Tigers — and Boston’s home team was down five to one.
“Everyone is down and depressed,” recalls the “Glee” co-creator, who grew up in nearby Newton (he and his brother, Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Evan Falchuk, share Sox season tickets). “And then (David) Ortiz hits that grand slam, and I have an internal explosion that was so free and so filter-less. So, I’m going nuts and I’m running around and I see a girl and I looked at her and I hugged her and I lift her up and I’m screaming and screaming. Then, the next batter comes up and she goes, ‘Are you Brad Falchuk?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and she’s like, ‘“Glee” has changed my life. I came out to my parents because of it. I met my girlfriend because of it.’ She was almost in tears at how much the show had meant to her, and the combination of those things, of this elated moment and this moment that I shared with this girl, which was just … we didn’t know each other, we were just so happy.”
The emotional ballpark scene aptly underscores what Dana Walden, chairman-CEO of 20th Century Fox TV (along with chairman-CEO Gary Newman), calls “Glee’s” “enormous cultural impact and its ability to deeply move its viewers.”
For the self-professed outsiders and underdogs who make up a large slice of “Glee’s” viewership — because, let’s face it, almost everyone feels that way at one point or another — the six-time Emmy Award-winning series has not only solidified the importance of musical education in our schools as a way to promote the power of self-expression, but has instilled in “Gleeks” a desperately longed-for sense of self-worth — regardless of race, color, creed or sexual orientation.
The show’s main thrust: Music is the universal language.
“The thing I love about this show the most is what it’s done for arts education,” says Matthew Morrison, who plays choir director Will Schuester. “I feel like now people have seen this kind of show and they can be like, ‘Oh, that’s a choice for me. I can actually do that.’”
And while Ryan Murphy, coming off the heels of the darkly satirical “Nip/Tuck,” didn’t fancy himself a groundbreaker or pioneer when embarking on the creation of “Glee” — “I wanted to do something that was lighter and more optimistic,” he explains of his primary intention — he is proud of the fact that the smallscreen sensation, which Murphy said last October will not go beyond its sixth season, has helped to shape a global landscape of tolerance and acceptance among adolescents, giving encouragement to the LGBT community in a way that, arguably, no other TV series has done before.
“‘Glee’ is incredibly diverse and inclusive of people who didn’t see themselves represented in television shows before it,” says co-creator Ian Brennan. “It’s showing a new generation of kids to a new generation of kids.”
Matt Kane, associate director of entertainment media at GLAAD, commends “Glee” for bringing stories about the challenges faced by LGBT youth “to a mainstream audience.
“ ‘Glee’ fandom also created a place for LGBT youth to feel not only accepted but celebrated,” Kane says.
In the role of Unique, a transgendered teen, actor Alex Newell (who was plucked for the series following his run on Oxygen’s “Glee” competition offshoot “The Glee Project”) gets a chance to portray a character whose sexual transitioning remains a topic that is taboo in many pockets of society.
“I love to educate people about the struggle and the life that transgendered teens live and I love singing — it’s my passion,” Newell says.
When Chris Colfer, who plays the openly gay Kurt Hummel, read the pilot’s script, he realized: “It was a show about kids like me. It was the first time I had seen something that was about the theater kids, the performing arts kids, and I was so excited for the world to have it.”
What the world saw was a high school environment in which music became a touchstone for teens from all cliques and clans and provided a safe space for anybody that didn’t fit the proverbial mold of popularity, and it was a revelation.
Between its successful concert tours and the 62 million singles that have been downloaded from the show, “Glee” is not only a commercial juggernaut — “it’s a cultural phenomenon,” says Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly — but also affords auds the vicarious opportunity to relive their miserable high school years in a way that doesn’t seem like a sick and twisted anthropological experiment.
“This show has allowed a lot of people to redo high school, and do it right,” says Falchuk. “At least we did. Almost all of these stories that we told were stories from our lives in some capacity, in some way we lived.”
Indeed, says exec producer Dante Di Loreto, “ ‘Glee,’ creates the high school environment you wished you had.”
But even the happiest high school experience is marred by some sort of trauma, and when “Glee” star Cory Monteith died last year, the cast and crew were shattered.
“Cory’s death was devastating in so many ways,” says Di Loreto. “It was destructive and painful and it was also galvanizing and it did bring people closer together. I’d trade that in a heartbeat to have him back but what was really remarkable was the way in which people pulled together during the tragedy of his death.”
Lea Michele, who stars as diva-cum-drama queen Rachel Berry, credits the “Glee” family with being “a great source of comfort. … I’ve grown throughout this experience so much,” she says. “When I look back at my life, I’m just gonna choose to have my ‘Glee’ memories of high school be my memories of high school.”
Falchuk agrees. “The show is a place where you can say, ‘There’s nothing to be ashamed of, there’s nothing to be scared of,” he says. “ ‘Be yourself. The more yourself you are, the happier you’ll be, and the more special you’ll feel.’ ”