The musical misfits of McKinley High were the darlings of the class of the 2009-2010 television season, and it appears that "Glee" will sustain its high note for its second season on Fox.
Debuting on a new night and a new time -- Tuesday at 8 p.m. over its Fall 2009 timeslot of Wednesday at 9 p.m. -- "Glee" received 12.3 million total viewers on Sept. 21, up 20% compared to its first season finale total of 11.1 million total viewers, and its best standalone tally without an "American Idol" lead-in.
"I'd like to thank our cast, but I'm kind of sick of the little bastards," joked "Glee" co-creator Brad Falchuk during the episode's premiere party earlier this month. "They're so talented and so amazing."
Indeed, "Glee" has achieved pop culture omnipresence in one year, and across the spectrum of notoriety: Claire's boutiques are selling trinkety "Glee" merch at the same time show creator Ryan Murphy and actress Jane Lynch are celebrating their recent Emmy wins.
Despite the ubiquity of "Glee" - the ratings for the second season debut show that there is still room for the show to grow. On the night, "Glee" placed second in its timeslot, 6.5 million viewers behind the season premiere of "NCIS" on CBS. And while "Glee" continues to rule the 18-49 demographic most valued by retailers -- according to Fox, it was the No. 1 new scripted show in that demo last year -- the network has plans to expand its audience even further.
The Sept. 28 episode is entitled "Britney/Brittany" and features Britney Spears teaming up with "Glee's" dimbulb cheerleader, played by Heather Morris. Spears will make a cameo, and her songs "Toxic," "…Baby One More Time" and "Me Against The Music" will be featured. "She is really just the sweetest girl and very beautiful, and it's very clear when she walked on set that there's a star there," Falchuk says. "She just doesn't have any attitude. She has a real kindness about her, which I think is one of the reasons she's a star."
In later episodes, other songs to be featured include a tribute to "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" -- an episode that is rumored to be turned into a standalone soundtrack -- will air around Halloween and is currently filming. "As in 'Rocky Horror' things are so wonderfully out of control -- and things [on the episode] get wonderfully out of control," Falchuk says.
In addition, the list of future guest stars seems to expand every day and now includes Gwyneth Paltrow, which Falchuk says is still in negotiations. "Working on it," he says. "That's someone we're definitely interested in because it's not just a gag. She can sing, she's an Oscar winner, she's beautiful. We're really not looking to stunt cast -- we have a part that's really interesting over a couple of episodes and we're looking for somebody really great to play that part."
Season 2 will definitely include recurring appearances by Charice, Chord Overstreet and John Stamos. "[Charice] came in, and it was a lovely meeting, and at the end her manager just had her sing a couple bars of 'Gold Digger' and it was like 'Ohhhh, hold on a second,'" Falchuk says. "Oh yeah, she's worth writing for." (In the season opener, Charice sings a blow-the-roof-off rendition of Beyoncé's "Listen," and Falchuk says the intercut reactions of the "Glee" cast to her performance were all real. "It was shock," he says. "She's 4 foot 2 and she can sing like that? Ridiculous.")
But all of these song choices and casting maneuvers won't make the promotional impact of one scheduling choice that's already been announced: Fox will air "Glee" following the Super Bowl in February 2011 -- which based on recent history, will give it an audience in excess of 25 million viewers, according to The Nielsen Company.
"We're planning some big stuff for it," Falchuk says. "The funny thing is, we have a macro idea for it -- but at the same time, that's episode 12 and we're shooting episode 5 now and writing episode 7. It's TV production, so we're much more worried about episode 7 than 12 -- at the same time we appreciate how much of a big deal it is to get that spot."
One of the secrets to "Glee's" success so far is getting these viewers to become music purchasers. "Our audience is voracious for our songs," says the show's music supervisor, PJ Bloom. "As episodes end they race to iTunes to download singles and still purchase full soundtracks at pre-release by the tens of thousands."
The show's five soundtracks featuring songs covered by the cast have sold 2.7 million to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan; the show ranks No. 6 on Billboard's Maximum Exposure list, up from No. 77 last year. Artists who have had their songs featured on the show see sales spikes after an episode using their music airs: Lady Gaga's "The Fame" sold 31,000 copies after her themed episode last season -- an 11% increase over the prior week, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Several cast members on "Glee" hope the show's popularity can extend to their solo careers; Mark Salling, who plays Puck, will release his album "Pipe Dreams" on Oct. 26 and Matthew Morrison, who plays Will Shuester, will release his album on Mercury in February.
Morrison is recording his albums on the weekends while Glee films, and he isn't worried about doing promotional duties amid his taping schedule. "'Glee' is promotional work," he says, noting that his album will mirror the show's eclectic mix of music. "It has a lot of stuff that you would find on the adult contemporary charts, but [also] stuff that I hope you'll hear in the club and you can dance to."
And the TV industry has confidence that the "Glee" mystique will carry on beyond this coming TV season -- even before last night's second season debut, the show was been renewed for a third season that will start on Fox in 2011. In June, Oxygen announced it reached an exclusive basic cable deal to show "Glee" in syndication starting in January 2011; in addition, the network will air a reality show that summer to discover a star for the show.
Falchuk says he expects "Glee" to keep on churning out several soundtracks this year -- and he expects the fans to keep buying them. "I just think it's nice to keep delivering those as much as we can," he says. "And also, for me, there's a reason why we put those songs together. The songs are specifically there to take you on a journey."