Glee pushes boundaries of TV marketing
Observer Scene | Wednesday, September 9, 2009
“Glee,” a quirky amalgamation of movies like “High School Musical” and “Election” and TV series like “Freaks and Geeks,” has a lot riding on its success this fall: an already cult-like following, one-third of Fox’s new show lineup, and about $3 million per episode.
That’s a pretty hefty price tag for a show that has all the indicators of a quick fizzle at first glance. It sure looks like a niche show, what with its Broadway renditions and obscure pop-culture references.
But according to an April article in the Los Angeles Times, series creator Ryan Murphy (also known for other quirky, and edgy shows like “Nip/Tuck” and the short-lived but delicious “Popular”) is hoping that with the right marketing and commitment to high standards, the show can push the boundaries of network television.
“I think they are all wanting to break out of the box: What is network television? What can it be? Every once in a while, something comes along that’s just different. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I think we’re all on the same page that it’s great to attempt it,” he said.
The show’s songs have consistently racked up downloads on iTunes, especially as teaser selections from upcoming episodes have been released to keep interest from slacking off. Murphy has suggested that Fox will produce several “Glee” albums a season, but it might be more likely that viewers will race online to purchase the featured music after each episode. REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It,” and Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” are just a few of the songs “Glee” has retooled with a cappella vocals from the cast.
The licensing fees and royalty payouts involved in each episode’s music selection takes up a chunk of that $3 million, but hopefully the popularity of the “Gleeked” versions will defray the cost.
So far, every song has been a cover, and there are few indications that the show will start creating original music.
The characterizations presented in the pilot (the sensitive jock, the bitchy cheerleader, the overachieving weirdo, and the tyrannical coach) fit neatly into archetypes, which may prove difficult to enrich as the episodes progress. For right now, however, Fox promoters are banking on the characters.
Several of the characters have Twitter, a MySpace, and a Facebook accounts. “RachelBerryGLEE,” the Twitter account for the overachiever character, is most likely updated by an intern in Fox’s marketing department, but the account’s 4,435 followers can read updates like “Wait, ‘Cop Rock’ was cancelled???” and “Spent an hour trying to think of a style of performance I don’t excel in and couldn’t come up with one.”
During last week’s repeat airing of the pilot, cast members even updated their personal Twitter accounts for a live-stream commentary on the episode – blurring the line somewhat between reality and fiction. For example, the “sensitve jock” Finn, doesn’t have a Twitter, but the actor Cory Monteith does (he’s searchable as “frankenteen.”) More than 10,000 followers read about this summer’s “Glee” mall tour through his regular updates.
The long break after the pilot episode and the gimmicky musical format could work against “Glee,” but the show’s creator and promoters have used their resources to keep the quirky comedy in the public’s mind like that summer song that you can’t get out of your head.