FROM SMALL SCREEN TO CENTER STAGE
TV shows have spawned tours before. The "Hannah Montana" tour grossed more than $54 million in 2007, according to Billboard Boxscore, and created a ticket-scrounging frenzy among parents and tweens; American Idols Live!, featuring the show's top 10 finalists, has been an annual summer trek since 2002. The 2009 edition featuring "Idol" winner Kris Allen and runner-up Adam Lambert as headliners grossed $30.1 million from 52 shows that had 485,324 attendees.
But the success of "Glee" stands apart because it was adapted to the stage so quickly and its TV rollout was so unconventional. The show's first season was split into three parts: a sneak peek after the finale of "American Idol," which aired in May 2009, followed by the first 12 episodes from September until December 2009. The show then went on a four-month hiatus, picking back up with the final nine episodes April 13. Thanks in part to another "American Idol" lead-in, the show earned its highest ratings ever with an average viewership of 13.6 million during the hour.
The stutter-start programming strategy was an audacious one that could have backfired, but it was supported by an omnipresent marketing campaign that kept "Glee" in the spotlight even when the show wasn't on the air. In addition to announcing a MySpace-based open casting call in February for three new characters, the cast sang at the White House Easter Egg Roll and appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" before the April debut.
The ratings peak for the show's spring return proved that Fox's marketing machine is indisputably impressive. It also proved that "Glee" fans-who dub themselves "Gleeks" and maybe should step back from the submit button on YouTube every now and then-were eager to see the show's cast in person.
"We even saw it in the in-stores we did in the beginning of the project," Bywater says. "We did a Hot Topic tour right after the pilot, and there were 3-, 4-, 500 people. Within the passing of just a couple of months, we were talking 1,500 people outside the Borders in New York. It happened really, really fast."