(Yes, that’s in Italian. I’ve decided it’s more fun to include promos with excited announcers in languages other than my own.)
From the promotional glut for Glee — let’s call it the Glee Glut ™ — you’d think that this Tuesday, the first man was going to walk on three hundred thousand moons at the same time, coinciding with the astonishing return of Jim Brown. But no, it’s just a network and production company trying very, very hard to make sure that the split-season format doesn’t turn out to be a mistake. This is, in a way, a test for the effectiveness of split seasons (which are going to become more common one way or the other). By promoting the return as if it’s a whole new season, Fox could, if things go well, get high ratings for the premiere and maybe even the episode after.
This would not guarantee continued success after the hype wears off, but it would at least help take the curse off the idea of putting a new hit on hiatus. The worry with Glee was that the hiatus would kill its momentum, making people forget about it. Fox is spending like crazy to prove that a hiatus can be a good thing: it gives the network the opportunity to plug the hell out of it, creating what amounts to two season premieres in the same “season.” Of course this probably works better for a show like Glee, which is basically episodic, than for a show that’s telling a more elaborate season-long story. Glee has lots of continuing story threads, but most of them are pretty easy to explain; the promotion for the show’s return can therefore focus on what is to come (hence all the promos about the cool conflicts and wacky adventures and Madonna songs), while another show would come back amidst confusion about what exactly happened before the hiatus, and how much the viewers need to be reminded. The Glee return spends a lot of time openly “re-introducing” the show, the characters and the concept, which is what shows always do after they’ve been off the air a few months. But they have the luxury of being able to aim the episode at newcomers without annoying the regulars.
The other thing that makes Glee so promotable is the famous multi-media aspect of it. This has always been consciously built into the show, and will be a key factor in not only keeping it on the air, but keeping it solvent. (The theory appears to be that the extra costs of the musical numbers, both in staging them and paying for the songs, can be defrayed with the help of non-TV outlets like iTunes.) Even the hybrid nature of the show, the way it basically mashes together every show that was ever made and allows you to interpret it with as much or as little irony as you want, seems calculated for the era of multiple formats and fragmented audiences. Not that it’s all calculated; some of it is undoubtedly about having three creators with somewhat different approaches. But I think some of it is calculated. It’s a show that is trying to work as a traditional prime-time show while also being easy to sample in bite-sized clips.
And most traditionally, when your show is built around performances of well-known songs (rather than originals, like Cop Rock) you can use those songs to promote the show all over the place. Talk shows need mass-appeal musical numbers, and they make more of an impact than a regular couch bit.
With music, you can even get on the evening news, as they did with the White House performance. All of this has been done before, but mostly to promote individual episodes: when Petticoat Junction did a Beatles spoof episode (with special guest star Zelda from Dobie Gillis) CBS put them on The Ed Sullivan Show to do the number from the episode. But that was one week’s show. Glee is making a whole series out of it.
None of that will save the show if its whimsy and eclecticism cause it to burn out early. Having started as a collection of more or less depressing stories with a wacky happy coating, it quickly adopted a rather complicated balancing act, where we’re almost invited to use the show as a Rorschach blot: it’s as happy or sad, ironic or sincere, as we want to believe it is. Any ironic or stylized tone is difficult to sustain, but it can be even more difficult when a show has to be all things to all people.