Fox 'Glee'-ful About New Musical Comedy

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Photo Source: 20th Century Fox Television
NEW YORK – Is Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" contagious? Some find the 1980s classic cheesy, but few can deny the powerful pop hook and emotional resonance that ended "The Sopranos" on an ambiguous note of hope two years ago.

The irresistible anthem is back in a big way. Each week on "American Idol," during commercial breaks, the Fox network has been using the song in promotional spots for its buzzy new series "Glee." The first episode of the one-hour musical comedy, which focuses on underdogs involved in a high-school glee club, debuts May 19 following the final sing-off on "American Idol."

That just might be the sweetest time slot in television. A post-"Idol" premiere, given the popularity of the Fox ratings ruler, guarantees extra eyeballs for the offbeat dramedy by "Nip/Tuck" creator Ryan Murphy. In an unprecedented move, Fox will present only the post-"Idol" pilot and air the rest of the episodes in the fall.

Echoing the catchiness of That Song, performed by the ragtag "Glee" crew in a key scene, the idea is to keep the show in viewers' heads long enough so they tune in after the summer break. The sound of "Glee" will range from "standards with a new twist to hip-hop and very current artists."

"The show is unconventional," Fox president Kevin Reilly said. "It is a bit genre-defying. It's got music, but it's not a musical. It's got comedy but it's not a comedy. ... It's set in a high school but it's not a high-school show. It's sweet and uplifting but it is not saccharine. It's got edge and attitude. So, that is the kind of show that, historically, people would take a while to get their hands around."

Indeed, the tone of "Glee" smacks more of "Freaks and Geeks" than the happy-go-lucky "High School Musical" franchise. In one cheeky scene, a rival show choir performs the Amy Winehouse hit "Rehab," grinning like "American Idol" finalists during a wholesome group sing-along.

The show, set in small-town Ohio, features a slew of unknowns, including Broadway performers Lea Michele ("Spring Awakening") as an ambitious social pariah and Matthew Morrison (revival of "South Pacific," "Hairspray" and "The Light in the Piazza") as an idealistic teacher searching for escape from his dull life and demanding wife. There will be future appearances by Kristen Chenoweth and Victor Garber (as Morrison's father).

Reilly, who greenlit the dark drama "Nip/Tuck" when he was president of the FX network, said he's confident "a huge chunk of people" will respond to "Glee," which has more heart than Murphy typically offers. According to Reilly, word of mouth is the core of this massive marketing campaign.

"We've got every part of the marketing and publicity machine firing on all cylinders for this, and this is something that's never been done before — to premiere a fall show in May," said Joe Earley, the executive vice president of marketing for Fox.

Earley outlined a strategy for building buzz through the summer months. The pilot will be available online, along with behind-the-scenes footage, cast-and-character introductions and an interactive competition where people can submit their own "Glee"-style performances.

Fox will promote the show during the upcoming season of "So You Think You Can Dance," dispatch street teams to distribute promotional material and reach out to cheer squads as well as glee and drama clubs, Earley said.

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