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'Glee' Takes Show On The Road


And now a trip to the world of "Glee," the quirky TV show that's become a big hit. As you may know, it centers around a group of high school students with incredible singing voices, who struggle to be popular.

(Soundbite of song, "Halo")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Oh, remember those walls I built. Well, baby, they're tumbling down. They didn't even put up a fight...

SIEGEL: Now, the TV cast members have taken the show on the road for a four-city tour.

As NPR's Ted Robbins reports, it's part music and part marketing.

(Soundbite of singing)

TED ROBBINS: When "Glee Live" opened in Phoenix, the show's snarky attitude was right up front, even before the curtain opened. A big-screen video showed Glee Club archrival cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester calling the audience idiots for buying tickets while production members, dressed in Cheerio uniforms, handed out barf bags.

Then, still on screen, the earnest Glee teacher, Will Schuester, took over.

Mr. MATTHEW MORRISON (Actor): (as Will Schuester): It is my pleasure to introduce to you, the McKinley High New Directions.

(Soundbite of cheering)

ROBBINS: When it was announced last March, the entire tour sold out. When more performances were added, show creator Ryan Murphy said they sold out even faster.

Mr. RYAN MURPHY (Creator, "Glee"): Today, we added a new date in L.A., and it sold out in 22 seconds.

(Soundbite of song, "Don't Stop Believin'")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) A singer in a smoky room...

ROBBINS: So by the time a dozen members of the "Glee" cast, plus backup dancers, were performing songs on stage from Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga, the audience went gaga. In fact, fans like Chris Hall(ph), known as gleeks, would have been happy if the cast had stepped on stage and stood there.

Mr. CHRIS HALL: For me, I pretty much - would have been pretty much thrilled so - but they did the whole shebang, so it was great, yeah.

ROBBINS: "Glee's" popularity has grown steadily since its debut on Fox just last fall. Ann Donahue, a senior editor at Billboard magazine, says it's because the network and the studio had a plan for the quirky show, and that plan is working.

Ms. ANN DONAHUE (Senior Editor, Billboard Magazine): They took something that really kind of had a niche cult hit written all over it, and they marketed it in such a way that it attracted a broad audience.

ROBBINS: By the time "Glee" returned to TV from hiatus last month, the network had hyped it so much with on-air promos and in-person cast appearances, it nearly doubled its audience from last fall - to as many as 13 million viewers. It's not only drawing a big audience, it's selling music.

(Soundbite of song, "Sweet Caroline")

GLEE CAST MEMBERS: (Singing) Sweet Caroline...

ROBBINS: Show tunes, pop, hip-hop and classic rock.

(Soundbite of song, "Sweet Caroline")

GLEE CAST MEMBERS: (Singing) ...seem so good. So good, so good, so good.

ROBBINS: In fact, Ann Donahue says "Glee's" record sales and downloads are exceeding those of its lead-in show, "American Idol."

Ms. DONAHUE: It's the fact that this show resonates with a group of people that's actually willing to buy music. And as we've seen with "Idol," "Idol" can still have, you know, 23 million people watch it each week, but 23 million people don't go out and buy those records.

ROBBINS: The live tour was another obvious natural revenue stream. But it's not just the music drawing fans. Fox Television CEO Dana Walden says "Glee's" appeal is unique in that it combines music with a well-written, ongoing narrative.

Ms. DANA WALDEN (Chairman, 20th Century Fox Television): Really, what people are coming back to, week in and week out, are fantastic characters who are in relationships that people care about.

ROBBINS: The music downloads and the tour are allowing the studio to plow money back into "Glee." It's an expensive TV show to produce, and it's not yet profitable. TV series typically aren't until they have enough episodes to make a big syndication deal possible.

Fox TV's Dana Walden says the challenge now is not only to draw more viewers but to keep fans caring.

Ms. WALDEN: There's almost an insatiable appetite for all things "Glee." Our job now is to make sure we're not abusing that brand or overextending it in a way that it burns the audience out.

ROBBINS: Fox says that "Glee" will follow next year's Super Bowl, traditionally a way to build a bigger audience. Tentative plans for a longer nationwide tour next year have been announced. And Dana Walden says "Glee's" creators are now discussing the possibility of a Broadway show based on "Glee."

That's perfect for one of the show's lead characters, Rachel Berry, who just has to be a Broadway star.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Glee")

Ms. LEA MICHELE (Actress): (as Rachel Berry) I'm going to play three parts on Broadway: "Evita," "Funny Girl" and Laurie in "Oklahoma."

ROBBINS: Ted Robbins, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, "Halo")

GLEE CAST MEMBERS: (Singing) Everywhere I'm looking now, I'm surrounded by your embrace. Baby, I can see your halo. You know you're my saving grace. You're everything I need and more. It's written all over your face. Baby, I can feel your halo. Halo, halo, halo, halo, halo, halo...

(Soundbite of song, "Walking on Sunshine")

GLEE CAST MEMBERS: (Singing) And don't it feel good? I used to think maybe you loved me. Now, baby, I'm sure...

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.