'Glee' Rewrites The Script On TV Music
Glee Matthias Clamer/FOX

SHOW TIME

A "Glee" preview aired on Fox May 19 and benefited from a massive lead-in of "American Idol" viewers during finale week. As the show was advertised relentlessly during the summer and the cast went on a tour of Hot Topic stores, the hype grew leading up to the Sept. 9 season premiere.

Since then, "Glee" has averaged 7.2 million viewers across 5.1 million homes, according to Nielsen, with 1.7 million of them female viewers ages 18-34. According to Fox, "Glee" has lowered the network's median age of viewers-an all-important statistic for advertisers-down three years, from 44 to 41.

Meanwhile, loyal fans (who call themselves "Gleeks") have been treated to new versions of Jazmine Sullivan's "Bust Your Windows," Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline," Kanye West's "Gold Digger" and even "Defying Gravity" from the Broadway musical "Wicked."

"Ryan Murphy's brain is iTunes," says 23-year-old Lea Michele, a seasoned Broadway soprano who plays the aspiring superstar Berry. "I've never met anyone with a music vocabulary as incredible as his . . . in the 13th episode, I go from singing a Barbra Streisand song into a Rolling Stones song into a Kelly Clarkson song," she says, clearly elated.

"If 'Glee' were just 'High School Musical' on steroids, I don't think it would have been as successful," Bywater says. "What makes the show work so well is the storylines, the comedy and the music choices, which are perfect for the 'Rock Band' generation. There's something for almost everybody in any given week."

Once Murphy chooses a song, music supervisor P.J. Bloom has to clear the rights with its publishers and music producer Adam Anders then rearranges it for the "Glee" cast. Numbers are rehearsed and choreographed if necessary, and then recorded in the studio. The intensive process begins six to eight weeks before an episode tapes and can end the day before.

"In '24' you would have the special effects budget-in 'Glee' you have a music budget," Bywater says. "Music is our special effects."

Seeking a promotional boost of their own, artists are increasingly angling to have their songs featured on the show. "Billy Joel has called and said, 'I love the show. Please use my music,' " Bywater says. In early 2010, an entire episode will be devoted to the music of Madonna.

Though "Glee" has only featured covers until this point, Murphy plans to use some original music in the spring. "I've had a lot of calls from songwriters, to the point where it's kind of embarrassing and ridiculous," he says. "So we're writing an episode called 'Original Song' where the teacher asks the kids to write their own piece of music. Diane Warren is going to do two big ballads, and if it works, we'll see what happens . . . but we won't do it all the time."