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Glee has been a television and cultural phenomenon since its debut in 2009. Centring around a high school glee club in the fictional town of Lima, Ohio, the series has made household names of its stars Lea Michele, Jane Lynch and Matthew Morrison. The cast’s musical recordings have broken chart and touring records, while the producers have launched a successful companion reality series entitled “The Glee Project”, which seeks to find new singers for the mother series.
However, now in its third season, Glee is facing a number of challenges both on and offscreen, the latest of which is the announcement that this summer will not see the cast embark on a US and UK tour, one which proved to be one of the most successful tours of 2011. While FOX insists that the absence of a tour this year is simply a way of giving give the cast a break after three years of continuous work, the decision comes as the latest in a line of challenges which the show has had to face in recent times.
Firstly, the show has experienced a steady ratings decline during this season. In its last airing on February 14, Glee garnered 6.99 million viewers, down 24% from its season premiere on September 20. More worrying, on a year-to-year scale this marked a 34% decline from the 10.53 million it attracted on February 15, 2010.
This comes in spite of high-profile tributes to West Side Story, Michael Jasckson, and a well-publicised episode depicting several major characters losing their virginities. The series has even started being beaten in the coveted 18-49 demographic by new comedy series New Girl, which airs straight after Glee on FOX’s Tuesday night line-up.
Secondly, the show has come under intense scrutiny over the long-term futures of its stars Lea Michele, Corey Monteith, Dianna Agron and Chris Colfer, among others, as their characters approach graduation. At first, reports surfaced that several of the departing characters would be spun-off into their own series set in New York, depicting them attending a performing arts school, with even Colfer releasing a statement indicating his probable departure at the end of season three.
However, those rumours were later dismissed by show runner Ryan Murphy, but confusion remains over how exactly the stars would continue to figure into the show’s storylines once their characters have graduated.
Thirdly, Glee’s attempt to segue onto the big-screen got off to a lukewarm start when ‘Glee: The 3D Concert Movie‘ failed to perform as well as expected, grossing just $18 million at the box office. The movie opened to mixed critical reviews, and its failure marked the first significant sign of the franchise’s vulnerability after just two years of production.
Finally, but perhaps not surprisingly, the series has gone out of fashion with major award voters. Despite winning three Emmys for its freshman season, that tally decreased to one for its sophomore season, and the show walked away empty-handed at both this year’s Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
This is not surprising as Glee has been accused repeatedly of uneven storytelling and relying too heavily on stunt casting, with the last 12 months featuring appearances by Gwyneth Paltrow, Ricky Martin, Britney Spears and John Stamos. Add that to the fifteen actors already comprising the main cast, and the criticism begins to take on merit.
Ratings-wise, Glee has never been the number one show on television – it has yet to rank in the top 30 for a whole season – but its online presence, chart records and critical buzz have ensured it a prime spot on FOX’s broadcast schedule. Yet, facing a continuing ratings decline, the potential loss of its stars and dwindling industry support; FOX’s former powerhouse may be in need of some significant revamping if it hopes to stick to the same formula and with the same cast members for its as-yet-unconfirmed fourth season.