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Fox to see if 'Glee' strikes chord with 'Idol' aud.

With "Glee," primetime leader Fox is hoping to end the TV season on an especially high note.

A big tune-in for the new Ryan Murphy-produced drama about a high school glee club would be music to Fox's ears--but the network admits its strategy for the show comes with some big risks.

"Glee" launches during the May sweep with one of the most unconventional rollouts in primetime history: The music-centered drama will receive a single airing this season, on Tuesday, May 19--behind the penultimate episode of "American Idol"--and then disappear again until fall.

"This is an unprecedented experiment," says Fox marketing topper Joe Earley. "No one's ever launched a fall show in May before."

Looking to assuage producer fears, Earley says the show--which is guaranteed a spot on the fall schedule, regardless of its debut performance --won't be judged internally by how auds connect with it out of the gate.

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But while Fox execs may try to resist delivering a verdict so soon, the rest of the biz probably won't be as patient.

"There's definitely some risk in that if it bombs, or is just mediocre, they won't be able to sell it as effectively," one rival network exec says. "Plus, it's off for a long, long time."

Indeed, with "Glee" coming on during the last full week of the TV season, it may be difficult for the series preview to cut through the noise--even if it is airing behind "Idol."

There's also a potential perception problem. With "Idol" still a ratings monster, skeins airing behind it see their viewership drop in the second half hour (as that first half is inflated by "Idol" stragglers).

"The risk of premiering the show now is, regardless of how we're looking at it, there are going to be people, competitors, the press, who will want to judge it on the ratings that night," Earley says.

That's why the network has been cautious in how loud it sings "Glee's" praises or predicts the show's success. Fox execs love the show, but they don't want to oversell it.

"We're being careful not to overhype this," Earley says. "It's not just about having the biggest series premiere of the season. That night is incredibly competitive. There are finales of shows that people have been watching all season. It's not about coming in and defeating everyone; it's just about how many people can view it."

Fox had mulled launching "Glee" (which comes from sister 20th Century Fox TV) earlier this midseason given its obvious compatibility with "American Idol."

The show, which follows a group of talented teens as they defy the odds and attempt to revive their high school's dormant glee club, is a perfect fit for the singing competish.

The pilot of "Glee" targets a similar, multigenerational audience as "Idol"--and also offers up the same kind of aspirational/wish-fulfilment storylines.

"It's a broad show. It's a show for adults and teens," Earley says. "It's just dark enough to be cool, and then takes you on an emotional journey that you weren't expecting to go on."

"Glee" is also a better fit for the network in the spring, when its female audience is higher, and younger viewers are tuning in. Come fall, "Glee" will be surrounded by older-skewing dramas on the nets and male ands tuning in to football and the Sunday animated comedies.

But there just wasn't any room this spring to properly launch "Glee," the net says. The two shows currently paired with "Idol--"Fringe" on Tuesdays and "Lie to Me" on Wednesdays--are both working, at least enough that Fox was loath to take them off the air.

At the same time, Fox didn't want to completely waste the "Idol" promotional opportunity. Fox needs "Glee" to work, given its desire to reclaim an aud missing since "Ally Mc-Beal," "90210" and "Melrose Place" exited.

"It will still be seen by more people than on any other platform we could use," Earley says. "No other campaign would reach the same number of people."

Because "Glee" isn't launching as a series in May, Earley calls its one-time airing "the world's largest grassroots screening." Networks, after all, frequently pass out DVDs or upload pilots online prior to their launch in order to attract some buzz.

"We could spend all of that time and money and still not reach the number of eyeballs we can reach behind an 'Idol' finale," he says.

Earley said the network also wanted to launch "Glee" early in order to cultivate word of mouth throughout the summer.

Fox knows the series isn't an obvious sell. It's not in a traditional network genre--no cops, doctors or lawyers--and it also must break through viewer preconceptions of what the show is all about.

"Glee" concerns people singing in high school--but it's not "High School Musical." Actually, it's not a musical at all. People sing on the show, but always onstage; no "Cop Rock" here.

"There's a large group of people who probably have a misconception that the show isn't for them," Earley says. Wee think it needs to be seen by people ... and then we'll develop a positive word of mouth."

Fox is planning screenings in 10 markets prior to its May debut. And after "Glee" airs on the network, the show will immediately be streamed on Fox.com and Hulu. "Glee" will then get a regular fall launch campaign as well, including a big push this summer during "So You Think You Can Dance."

"This is not the full-blown campaign that we would normally do for a series launch, but that's because this came up so late in the season," Earley says. "We are really turning over every stone to find every penny to give it a good, solid campaign in May. Luckily, we have the viewer circulation right now."
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Title Annotation:TV; American Idol
Author:Schneider, Michael
Publication:Variety
Date:Apr 27, 2009
Words:966
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