Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How Glee really IS changing the TV landscape

Property The Daily Gamecock

Fox has been airing a series of promos for the return of “Glee,” which describes the show as having “changed the TV landscape.” That may seem like a silly, hyperbolic statement, especially for a show that’s only had 13 episodes, but Fox’s high-wire genre-bender has not only caught on like wildfire, it’s given the network a different way to think about how to keep its shows afloat.

Perhaps one of the smartest things the television executives could have done with the show, which melds soap opera, high school social politics, broad comedy and energetic musical numbers into a non-traditional comedy/drama, was to give it an equally non-traditional release pattern.

The show’s pilot aired last May as a stand-alone television special, posting great reviews, high ratings and launching the show’s first single, a cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” to number one.

Fox was quick to order 13 episodes, but it probably wasn’t until the television show produced a No. 1 song that they realized how they could make a relatively expensive and hard-to-market show work. After several more episodes, Fox ordered nine more episodes, which will start airing tonight, and a complete 22-episode order for a second season.

For most people familiar with Fox television, their willingness to embrace “Glee” produced more than a few double takes; after all, this is the network that canceled fan and critic favorites like “Arrested Development” and “Firefly” just a few years ago.

The real kicker for the show is that, as they so readily advertise, it’s already posted two No. 1 albums and more than four million song downloads. Holy revenue stream, Batman!
Unlike most television shows, which rely almost exclusively on advertising space, DVD sales and, if they can get to 100 episodes, syndication sales to help networks recoup the cost of production slowly over time, Fox has created an alternative source of income to complement their show.

Of course, it probably doesn’t help that the show has already scooped up the Golden Globe for Best Television Series — Musical/Comedy, the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series and a Peabody award, in addition to nominations from the Directors Guild and Writers Guild.

Perhaps the runaway success of “American Idol,” television’s most-watched show over multiple years, has allowed Fox to loosen up how it thinks about its programming and take risks. Perhaps “Glee” is a sign of more unique, madcap shows that try to push general conceptions of how television programs work.

Of course, that idea of how programs “work” certainly isn’t limited to their content. While “Glee” has pushed “high school shows” in a brave new direction that’s almost blissfully manic even in its most uneven moments, Fox has found a way to utilize individual song downloads and album sales in its favor.

At a time when cable television stations like FX and HBO threaten to yank the best writers and directors away from broadcast television, and most networks are looking for ways to ease the cost of production, Fox has found a way to draw viewers back.

This merging of narrative programming, CD sales and digital downloads takes the model “American Idol” established and turns it in a new direction. “Glee” is a phenomenon not only in how it’s created a veritable cult following in just 13 episodes, but for how Fox has continued to find ways to use its popularity to fuel its continued production.

Maybe that’s an essential step to changing a medium’s landscape. That’s Entertainment.

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