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TCA 2011: Could 'The Glee Project' be a farm team for 'Glee'?

Joy Press
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — "The Glee Project" looked like a strange beast when it was first announced: a reality competition show on cable network Oxygen, created to supply the Fox hit "Glee" with a new character for next season. But the series — which featured a dozen quirky young people mentored by "Glee's" own casting director, vocal coach and choreographer and judged by "Glee" creator Ryan Murphy — slowly found its own audience this summer. Some fans like it more than "Glee" itself.

And now that Murphy has fostered confusion about which "Glee" stars will be returning to the show, there may be some reason to wonder if "The Glee Project" — with its deep well of talented, likable performers — could turn into a kind of farm team for the slushie squad.

The winner of "The Glee Project" will get a sizable story arc on the upcoming season of "Glee" (at least seven episodes, which, as casting director and "Glee Project" mentor Robert J. Ulrich points out, is more than some of the regulars get). But they won't eliminate the prospect that some of the reality show's "losers" could sneak on to "Glee" too.

"Anything is possible in the world of 'Glee,'" Ulrich says with a laugh. "I have a script waiting for me at the office for the first episode of 'Glee,'" but he says he doesn't yet know how even the winner will be woven into the Season 3 storyline.

As choreographer/mentor Zach Woodlee points out, "Everyone was fit for the show ... we had to look at this as a trial and a bootcamp to get people ready," and base eliminations on how much progress each made weekly.

And rather than just a matter of talent, there was also the matter of who Murphy felt he could use as the basis of a fresh character who would extend the show's mission of diversity and inclusiveness. Ulrich said, "They're having to make themselves truthful enough that they can be written for," which made for a very unusual situation.

Oxygen has not officially picked up the show for a second season, but executive producer Michael Davies was optimistic, "based on the ratings growth we've seen, more than 100 percent increase since we began." He referred to the series as a kind of canary in the coal mind of the TV world, noting that it has a lot of young viewers who don't watch in traditional ways: "Many many of the views are off Oxygen, they're on other devices." They also have a sizable online and Twitter presence: "You read the twitter exchanges between these kids and their fans ... We're in a new television world with younger viewers."

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