'Glee' Co-Creator Ian Brennan: The Show 'Has a New Lease on Life'
"So much of the show is about telling high schoolers to follow their dreams -- you actually wanted to see your main character go through with it," the executive producer tells THR.
Glee's much-ballyhooed fourth season kicks off Thursday night as the Fox musical unspools its split-location format with story lines from a proposed spinoff set in New York infused with the dramedy's central home in Ohio.
The mild reboot will see the show's core characters -- Lea Michele's Rachel Berry, Chris Colfer's Kurt Hummel and Cory Monteith's Finn Hudson among them -- leave the confines of Ohio and venture out into the real world, following through on a lofty goal that was established in the pilot.
It's a leap that through the summer remained a question mark for the show's 15 series regulars: How would a show set in an Ohio high school service story lines for several characters who splintered off in different locations, including New York, Chicago and L.A.? The ambitious plan also called for the series to bring in new blood, which it has done with the return of Glee Project season one winners Alex Newell and Samuel Larsen as well as fresh faces Dean Geyer (Brody), Jacob Artist (Jake), Melissa Benoist (Marley) and Becca Tobin (Kitty). Throw in multiple-episode arcs for Kate Hudson and Sarah Jessica Parker, and Glee sounds nearly unrecognizable.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with co-creator and executive producer Ian Brennan at Wednesday's Glee season four premiere in Hollywood to discuss revitalizing the series, how the New York location is prime for its new (old) time slot and just how the show will continue to service story lines for 15 returning -- and beloved -- characters.
THR: Was it an intentional decision not to do the proposed spinoff and instead fuse both New York and Lima story lines into season four?
Ian Brennan: It all goes back to us having said in the pilot that Rachel was a sophomore. We set the seed for her graduating in three years, and at the time, when you're writing a pilot, you're not thinking four years ahead. It was around season two once we knew that the show was working, that we were going to have to deal with this at some point. There was talk of a spinoff, but then it seemed better to incorporate it into the show, particularly because we spent so much time. So much of the show is about telling high schoolers to follow their dreams -- you actually wanted to see your main character go through with it and be the big fish in a small pond to be a big fish in the biggest pond ever: New York City. It seemed like that was what we owed the audience.
How nervous were you about changing the series?
It was a little nerve-wracking when we came to it toward the end of last year that this was happening. As writers, we didn't take a hiatus; we stayed working through the break and tried to crack what New York would be like and who was going to be there: Who were the characters? How that was going to feel for Rachel? We worked at it for a while. We knew pretty early on that we were going to be able to get Kate Hudson, which is such a crazy get. I personally didn't know how it was going to work, but within 30 seconds of seeing the first cut of the first episode, it just works. It's seamless, and the show feels slightly different but totally the same; the tone is a little bit different, but it's still very much Glee. It feels like the show has grown up and it's just blossomed and we're able to tell bigger stories. The stories feel more adult, and it's more suited to 9 p.m., which is good for me as a writer.
Was it always the plan to bring it back to the 9 p.m. slot?
We started there, so it was always going to be a 9 p.m. show. And then Fox wanted us to anchor, which is totally what I would also do as a network. It's nice to find ourselves back there at a time where you can be a little bit more edgy. It feels like the show has some space to breathe; it feels familiar yet totally new. The new actors we have are fantastic, and Kate Hudson is so good. It was one of those magic coups that [co-creator] Ryan [Murphy] orchestrated and when he talked about it I was excited. You see her for one second on the show and it just works; she's really adept, talented and sexy.
Will there be three different types of episodes -- in Ohio, New York and both locations?
Yes, there will be ones that focus way more on Lima, and there are ones that will focus much more in New York. That's what's great about this formula: It allows us a bit more leverage to tell different sorts of stories; we're not always tied to a specific place, and we can go back and forth depending on what we're feeling at the time and what the show is telling us. It's like the show has a new lease on life, which is exciting.
Could some of characters who remain at McKinley -- Matthew Morrison's Will Schuester, for example -- wind up in New York for a little bit?
Definitely. I wouldn't be surprised to see Will Schuester show up in New York. That's what's so great about the show -- we're not really losing anybody, we just gain more people and we've always got this amazing cast at any given time in our back pocket. We're tracking them all and know where they all are, and it will be great to pepper them back in as it suits the story.
All 15 of the season three regulars are coming back. How much will they be involved? There are some folks who come back in the second episode briefly. Will their returns be like cameos or larger than an episode?
No, we'll see them in and out. We don't want to just have people for cameos; we want to track them because the audience cares and we care. These are characters we've watched grow up into adults, and we want to follow them. It will always be rooted back at McKinley. It really gives us a lot of options as writers.
Will McKinley's senior class this year -- Artie (Kevin McHale), Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), Blaine (Darren Criss), etc. -- also be doing the same thing as Rachel and company?
We'll see how this works out as a format, but yes, that's what's great: The seniors will graduate, and we'll follow them as we go on, but then we get a new crop of kids. It refreshes the whole show and is really exciting to write toward.
If the New York location story line proves successful, might you revisit a spinoff idea?
I haven't even thought of that. Maybe, although I wouldn't want to mess with this formula that we have right now because I think it's going to work.
Glee airs at 9 p.m. Thursdays on Fox. Hit the comments with what you're looking forward to seeing.