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Glee – On set with creator/producer Ryan Murphy who tells about the extraordinary success

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Glee Season 1 - The Glee cast sings
The Glee cast sings © Fox

One of the many perks of being a member of the Television Critics Association is that we get to visit popular shows, and on January 18th we went to Twentieth Century Fox to go on the Glee set.

Not only did we speak with the cast and creator/producer Ryan Murphy, but two of the stars of the series, Amber Riley and Lea Michelle sang for us. Amber did her rendition of Burt Bacharach’s Don’t Make me Over, and Lea did Maybe This Time from Cabaret.

After the performance, Ryan Murphy spoke about the extraordinary success that the show has found in its first season.

When you introduced Amber, you said you had to cut her song, Don’t Make Me Over, out of one of the episodes, how hard is it to cut a song with all the prep that goes into it, and do you anticipate that happening more?

Glee 1.06 - Amber Riley
Episode 1.06 The Rhodes Not Taken - Mercedes (Amber Riley) performs "Somebody to Love" © Fox

I don’t think so. I think the song that Amber sang was in one of the first four episodes and we were really trying to figure out what the template of it was. The scripts would run long and we were just learning. Now I think we have it down to a science where the scripts are scientifically to the point of how many minutes they will be, the numbers are timed out.

I think we are making the story telling and the music go together in a more organic way because we’ve had more experience to figure this out. When we started none of us had done a musical before so it was a real learning curve.

Can you talk about Jennifer Lopez being a guest on the show?

I’m meeting with Jennifer. She’s a fan of the show and I’m a fan of hers so we’re going to have dinner and talk about it, I would love for her to play a really great cafeteria lady (he laughs) who Kurt (Chris Colfer) makes over into a Susan Boyle sensation or something.

Glee Season 1 - Chris Colfer, Lea Michele, Amber Riley, Cory Monteith and Jenna Ushkowitz © Fox
Chris Colfer, Lea Michele, Amber Riley, Cory Monteith and Jenna Ushkowitz © Fox

A lot of actors want to be on this show, how often are you being approached by actors like J-Lo, and what is the risk of stunt casting?

I think with stunt casting you have to be very careful. I think it has to be very organic. You have to watch out that it doesn’t become The Love Boat, which I’ve always been very conscious about. I think if we do it we’ll do it once, twice, three times a season, but we won’t do it every episode. I do get a lot of calls from a lot of different people, like Jennifer would love to do it, but it would have to be the right part. You can’t have Jennifer Lopez walk into McKinley High School, it just makes no sense.

What we’re doing with Olivia Newton-John is a good example of that to move Jane Lynch’s character along that I think is very fun, and Jane and I have a very personal connection to Olivia in that we were both obsessed with her as children.

Glee Season 1 - Lea Michel
Rachel (Lea Michele) © Fox

You’re choosing interesting songs for the show, Burt Bacharach is not necessarily the hippest music to reach a young audience. Can you tell us why you are doing those kinds of songs and how you might be introducing classic songs to a new generation?

Brad (Fulchuk), Ian (Brennan) and I write the show, we write all the scripts, and first of all what we do is thematically come up with what is the episode about? What are the characters doing? And then, to be quite honest, I just go home and swan around the house until two in the morning and try and remember what my mother was doing when she had her nervous breakdown when I was in 5th grade and what songs I remember, it’s very personal.

What you heard today, when I was growing up Cabaret was one of my favorite movies. That’s why the song is in here. Burt Bacharach was one of my idols. They’re very personal choices to me and that’s why I put them in, and I think that’s why they’ve connected. The great thrill for us is that when you air a show and you see our version of Maybe This Time, a song from Cabaret, a 1972 movie, in the top ten of iTunes, that to me says a whole group of kids who have never seen that movie are discovering it.

Glee 1.09 -  Dijon Talton, Jenna Ushkowitz, Naya Rivera, Amber Riley, Heather Morris, Lea Michele, Kevin McHale, Cory Monteith and Dianna Agron
Episode 1.09 Wheels - Members of the Glee Club perform. Dijon Talton, Jenna Ushkowitz, Naya Rivera, Amber Riley, Heather Morris, Lea Michele, Kevin McHale, Cory Monteith and Dianna Agron © Fox

I also love when we do a song like when Mark Salling did Sweet Caroline, Neil Diamond Twittered about it the next day; and Sweet Caroline entered the charts, which it had not done in 25 years.  That’s just amazing.

This show more than anything is just a tribute to artists that we love and pay homage to, and I think it’s really thrilling and unexpected when young people in particular are discovering this person for the first time.

How did it feel to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Series Comedy or Musical?

Last night felt incredibly humbling and sweet. We’re such a family and we create this in a bubble, we pretty much had shot everything before any episode had aired, so I just got up there and looked at all these faces I’ve loved for over a year and I was so thrilled that they were seen and recognized for their talent. I have won it before for Nip/Tuck and it felt much more wholesome this time! (laughter).