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'Glee' Exec Producer Ryan Murphy Reveals Season 3 Secrets: There Will Be Only One Tribute Episode (Q&A)

Glee executive producer Ryan Murphy is plotting the third season of his hit series  -- and the senior years of many of the New Directions kids. There will be swan songs, to be sure. But perhaps less of them than you think. Murphy hinted that it’s possible that not everyone will graduate on time. And the “tribute episodes” will be scaled back drastically. In fact, Murphy and Glee co-creators Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan are planning only one with an artist they have been trying to land for two years.

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Meanwhile, Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) will get a major, 20-episode arc which will involve the winner of Oxygen’s The Glee Project, which bowed two weeks ago and is now down to 10 contestants.

Murphy talked to The Hollywood Reporter about the possibility of a Glee spinoff, what he’s learned from the lackluster premiere ratings for The Glee Project and whether viewers will finally get to meet Rachel Berry’s two dads.

The Hollywood Reporter: Chris Colfer and Lea Michele are clearly the stars of Glee. Will you really write them out of the show entirely after next season?

Ryan Murphy: You know, people have been asking me that a lot. The thing that I’m saying officially is, yes I do have a plan. The great thing about season three is we’re writing toward something [the characters’ senior years in high school]. There is a conclusion, which is great for a writer. We literally just started [planning out the season]. So I don’t know for sure what will happen with those characters I love and everybody else has loved. We haven’t really made that decision. Some of the characters clearly have academic issues. Like Heather Morris’ Brittany I’m sure gets straight Fs. I would not be shocked to see her flunk. I love her.

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THR: Is there a possibility of Glee spinoffs?

Murphy: I don’t know. Who would have the time to do that? Who knows? I don’t know. I was nervous about the second season of the show because it was like, will people accept new characters? And then we brought in Darren Criss and he is like a huge star now. So I think the show is always what we hoped it would be; about new voices and vision anchored by two great actors in Matthew Morrison and Jane Lynch. And I’ve been saying that the cast will eventually graduate since the first season so I’m kind of in the dark about why it’s just now ...  it’s not new news.

THR: Would you use more than one Glee Project cast member on Glee next season?

Murphy: I don’t know. I really love The Glee Project. I love the winner we chose. It was a really difficult decision because the people who were in the bottom three were all so good. I don’t know if I would bring those people on but I would defiantly consider them for things. I was really thrilled with the winner. And I’m excited about adding new voices to the show. But I’m also excited about giving characters that haven’t had A story lines big story lines in season three.

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THR: Who will get those major story lines? Might some of the show’s big stars fade into the background a little bit next season? 

Murphy: [Rachel and Kurt] are two characters who I am very fond of personally and they will always get great material. We have great stuff for them. I think Lea [Michele] is hilarious. So we’re going to write some big stuff [for her]. I’m really interested in seeing Rachel's gay dads who we’ve never met. I’ve said that I don’t want to do that. But maybe now is the time to do it. Also, we want to give Chris Colfer a really fun uplifting story line after the heaviness of last year.

[pagebreak]

THR: Are you actively looking for actors to play Rachel’s dads?

Murphy: I have ideas. We’re not there yet. I don’t know how I’m going to do that or when.

THR: Are you doing away with all tribute episodes next season?

Murphy: I’m doing one.

THR: Will it be a supersized episode?

Murphy: I don’t know. I have to talk to [Fox Broadcasting chairman] Peter Rice and [Fox Entertainment president] Kevin Reilly about that. It’s somebody who we’ve all been going after for two years begging them to do it and they finally said yes. And it was a really long rights struggle.

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THR: Is it Bruce Springsteen?

Murphy: I have to make an announcement with that person. So I have to wait. You might have guessed it, you might have not. I can’t reveal anything. We’re not really having many guest stars and we’re going to do one [tribute episode].

THR: How did you come to the decision to drastically scale back the tribute episodes? Were you unhappy with how they turned out last season?

Murphy: I sort of feel this is the one that I really wanted to do all along. Last year we had bigger, bolder story lines. And I think last [season] a lot of people really enjoyed the boldness of it with the tributes. But we’re not going to do that this year just because we’re writing to something so specific. We have great stories and great character arcs that we want to tell.

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THR: So less singing, more talking?

Murphy: Some episodes we had six songs, some episodes we had ten, which I thought was too many. I think we’ll probably end up trying to do four [songs per episode], which seems right to me. Last year was a lot of pop music too. And we won’t be doing as much of that this year.

THR: What kind of arc is Sue Sylvester going to get? A romance? A new rival?

Murphy: It’s going to be everything. We’ve had Sue taking on the glee club enough times. I think now Sue needs to turn her hatred toward the nation. So I think that’s the idea, and it will also involve Matt’s character and the winner of The Glee Project.

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THR: The Glee Project winner be an object of Sue’s hatred?

Murphy: Yes. Sue is going to hate the person and will try to destroy them at all costs. I think she’ll hate that person more than the glee club. She’s had enough of the glee club and will turn her savagery toward the winner of The Glee Project and the Obama administration. I think that’s what she’s going to do.

THR: Is the winner of The Glee Project going to be in the season premiere or will they be added in later in the season?

Murphy: They’re coming in the first episode. I will not have them shoot a frame until the winner is announced because I don’t want the paparazzi hanging around the Paramount lot trying to snap pictures. The winner is somebody who is unexpected. We’ve really been working with them since we finished shooting [The Glee Project]. They’re working with an acting coach. They’re taking dance lessons. They’re taking vocal lessons. They’re really getting ready. So it’s exciting. I think they have the potential to break out just like Chris Colfer did, just like Heather Morris did, just like Darren [Criss] did.

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THR: Were you disappointed with the premier ratings for The Glee Project?

Murphy: I didn’t do the show to try to pop a number. I did it because I wanted to cast a new person. Oxygen is a great home for our show. I think the thing that we learned is not to put a premiere opposite the Tony Awards. I hope people find [the show] because I think it will be very interesting for fans of Glee to follow. And I think what it’s putting out there is a great thing. The Glee Project is about a love for the performing arts and becoming an overnight star. Literally we’re giving them a career. This week on episode three there’s a story line which came out of nowhere that was sort of a shocking revelation. There’s an episode where one of the characters has a nervous breakdown and we had to decide; are we going to film this or not? That was really moving to me. There’s an episode where I kick off the wrong person, which I have been killing myself about ever since.

THR: Does this person know that?

Murphy: Yes. When we’re taping the show they trot me out for the big performance and I hear each of [the bottom three] sing. One episode one of the kids has a really off day and I got rid of them. And it’s not until we were editing the episodes with Oxygen, that I was like, Holy shit, I didn’t know that! Now I’m watching the episodes and I’m like, what have I done? It is kind of funny.

Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com
Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie