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The Road to 'Glee': A Musical TV History
March 08, 2011
Staff Writer, BuddyTV
It's fair to say that Glee is a hit. Lots of awards, a bunch of imitating shows on the way and oodles of fans make that obvious. But how did we get Glee ? There's a long history of musicality on television, and every step brought us a bit closer to the crazy success of Glee .
Where did it start? It's hard to say, so we'll just pick a random -- but prominent -- point in TV history and go from there. We begin, of course, with The Partridge Family .
Back in the early 1970s, the predecessors of the Gleeks were falling in love with David Cassidy and the rest of the singing Partridges. They were cute. They were wholesome. They made lovely music as they went about their lives. What more could you want?
From The Partridge Family , it was only a short step and a few years until Fame came along. Much like Glee today, Fame chronicled the ups and downs of high school students seeking fame (of course) through music. It's just that they did it in a significantly grittier and more urban atmosphere than Lima, Ohio.
Dark and gritty didn't last for the next step on the road to Glee : Kids Incorporated . This Disney Channel programming (which lasted from 1984 until 1993) was bright and sunny and filled to the brim with attractive kids singing the hits. The music wasn't so memorable, but you can't argue with a show that introduced us to Fergie, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Eric Balfour.
The late '80s and early '90s were a high point in Glee -like television. In 1987 and 1988, we got to witness the Annie -like bit of fluff known as Rags to Riches . The show featured a wealthy man who randomly adopted five orphaned girls. And then everybody sang '60s pop songs!
Even cartoons got in on the act. The Simpsons began its epic run in 1989 and soon brought musical numbers thoroughly into its repertoire. Hey, when you can get guest stars like Michael Jackson and Tony Bennett why not highlight the music?
Alas, all was not well in this singsong-filled period. The stirrings of discontent were felt most strongly in the presence of 1990's Cop Rock . OK, so a gritty police procedural in which the characters randomly broke into original musical numbers was a tough sell. But Cop Rock still deserved better than it got.
The road was indeed dark for the Glee predecessors throughout the rest of the 1990s. Despite the occasional stirrings of musical interest, no one went full-musical until it was time for the new millennium. That's when things began to change.
The gold standard in musical episodes arrived in this grim period. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a tendency to bend genres, so why not veer into monster-filled musical territory? Not only was the music and singing great, this 2001 episode made it cool again to randomly burst into song on TV.
Scrubs , beginning in 2001, made music a central part of the show's bizarre comedy. The music even took over with the treatment of a patient who conceived of the world in song and dance.
Obviously, we needed music on our TVs. But how much music? The need seemed small until 2002, when a little program called American Idol appeared on the scene. It turns out that we need a lot of music. All the time. American Idol provided many a belted-out pop song in the pre- Glee world. And so what if they once rejected a young woman named Amber Riley ?
The success of American Idol proved that the latter part of the decade definitely needed music. High School Musical gave us a taste -- but only a taste -- in 2006.
The following year brought a host of television programming to whet that initial taste. But not all of the tastes were welcome. Viva Laughlin , despite the attachment of Hugh Jackman and the earlier success of the British series, Blackpool , failed. Miserably.
Other musically-inclined projects faired a little better. The bizarre but brilliant Pushing Daisies had the foresight to cast Glee 's April Rhodes, Kristin Chenoweth, and to let her sing . HBO's Flight of the Conchords premiered in the same year and provided a whole new type of bizarre musicality to television audiences.
On the surface, Eli Stone , another arrival in 2007, was more normal. At least it was until George Michael (and others) began prophesying in song and dance to a straight-laced lawyer. That was less normal.
But all of these Glee predecessors were short-lived. None survived past 2009, leaving only the long-running Simpsons and American Idol (plus a dozen or so other reality shows) to provide for our singing and dancing needs.