The Rise and Fall of Glee

As Glee returns to our television screens this January, It’s about time we look at the rise and fall of this once immensely popular show.

The Rocky Beginnings

Glee premiered in 2009 to so-so reviews and phenomenal ratings. During its first season, Glee was averaging a 77 on Metacritic and many people bashed it for its lack of originality. Alessandra Stanley from The New York Times even called the show “blissfully unoriginal in a witty, imaginative way”. The show had potential but the delivery was flawed. The fans of Glee did not care and continued to watch with ratings staying around 7 million. Everything changed during the fourteenth episode titled “Hell-O“, which pulled a whopping 13.66 million American viewers. This was due to many of the characters going through redevelopment and the guest star Idina Menzel as Shelby Corcoran, Rachel Berry’s biological mother.

Idina Menzel as Glee's Shelby Corcoran
Idina Menzel as Glee’s Shelby Corcoran

At this point, Glee fans were enjoying the show with at most 12 million other American viewers watching with them. It had finally proved itself. Glee’s remake of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’“, their first official hit was the launching point of Glee‘s success.

At the end of Season 1, Glee was nominated for 19 Emmy Awards, 4 Golden Globes, 6 Satellite awards and many others totaling 86 nominations. Glee walked away with 37 of them. Glee had finally proved itself as the underdog that could rise to the occasion.

Top of the Charts

Glee returned on September 21, 2010 to 12.45 million American viewers. Gleeks were ready for a new season and the critics were ready to critique. There were guest stars ranging from the “Princess of Pop” to “Hollywood’s Bitch” and even Carol Burnett. The ratings were looking good and the critics response to each episode was good. The real push for this season was the musical numbers.

Between the record-breaking 156 charted songs on Billboard Hot 100 to Darren Criss’s rendition of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” Glee had reached a new level. Criss’s rendition of “Teenage Dream” and Glee‘s original “Loser Like Me” exceeded over 200,000 downloads in their first week earning them gold status in the US. Along with that, Glee released five soundtracks for this season ranging from their original content to Top 40 charting songs. Megan Brown from The Atlantic put it best “It’s been a crazy ride this season. As frustrated as I get with Glee‘s minute-to-minute identity crisis, there have been some truly gorgeous moments of television in the past twenty-two episodes…” That statement is something that has been repeated several times in the Glee fandom. Gleeks loved to hate the show that they could not turn away from.

Glee continued to climb the ladder with the episode “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” with Original Rocky Horror Picture Show players Barry Bostwick and Meat Loaf making appearances. This episode was brass, crazy and watered down which angered many fans and creator Richard O’Brien. All that aside, this episode pulled in 11.76 million American viewers. Glee went on to produce “The Sue Sylvester Shuffle” the follow up to Super Bowl XLV.

Glee's Sue Sylvester Shuffle
Glee’s Sue Sylvester Shuffle

The episode cost over 3 million dollars to make, which earned them the title of the most expensive post-Super Bowl episode ever produced. This episode featured over 500 extras, stunt artist and news anchor Katie Couric. The episode has been viewed by 26.8 million American viewers and became the highest rated scripted TV broadcast in over three years. This season of Glee brought them to the top of the charts with forty-five awards walking away with over thirty of them. Glee was even named at the American Film Institute as one of the Television Programs of the Year.

The Seasonal Error

Glee returned for its third season on September 20, 2011 to 9.21 million American viewers, well below the 12.45 million viewers for season two. Season three looked promising due to six new staff writers being hired and the idea of splitting the season to mimic a semester in a traditional. It sounded amazing and really got gleek’s excited for the show that always seems to deliver in one way or another.

With all these promises and changes, they failed to change one thing that is rather important in television: the delivery. Glee gave the same things week after week and did not change because it worked. The show started to stall out and it was becoming noticeable. The ratings for the show constantly moved between 7 and 9 million viewers. Episodes like “Micheal” and “The First Time” are regarded as the best of season due to breaking the typical Glee story line.

Glee was doing too much at this point in the series with the semester break, introduction of new characters and the constant push of tribute episodes. There were way too many hands in the pot.

Glee's Season Three Cast
Glee’s Season Three Cast

Despite all this, graduation loomed around the corner for many of the main characters. At the end of season three, Rachel, Mike, Quinn, Finn, Kurt, Mercedes, Puck and Santana were graduating and moving on. This idea seemed to innovative and groundbreaking for television but in all reality it just pushed Gleeks further away. Glee was trying to freshen up a show that was doing pretty well. Glee made the list at 56 out of 195 shows in terms of viewership beating out shows like The Simpsons and Scandal. While they had lost their grip on some fans and critical success, Glee was still a phenomenon.

Reinventing the Wheel

Glee once again returned to our screens for season four to 7.41 million American viewers. The new Glee club members had moved in and the old ones out to places like New York and Chicago. In the season première episode “The New Rachel“, we saw that we would be moving between NY to Ohio for season four. A few episodes in, people were dubbing this season “Glee 2.0”. Glee seemed to have reinvented the show and what they were trying to do. Even though their ratings still fell, averaging only 8.26 million viewers, they improved their critic response to a 71 on Metacritic.

Episodes like “Diva“, “Feud” and “Sweet Dreams” seemed to show Glee returning to its seasons two inspirations and musical numbers while episodes like “Shooting Star” showed that Glee still had a lot to tell and was not to going to slow down. Glee was trying to reinvent the wheel as we saw the original Glee members recreated in members like Ryder, Kitty and Jake. These characters were likable but they were not exciting like their original counterparts. Many viewers watched to get updates on Finn and Rachel and Blaine and Kurt, but did not care for the “New New Directions”.

Season Four Promo
Season Four Promo

At this point, this once power house was seeing the end of the tunnel. Fans were walking away and critics were starting to notice the repetitive story lines and copycat characters. Guest stars like Kate Hudson and Whoopi Goldberg proved that Glee was still there, attempting to deliver what Gleek fell in love with. Characters like Wade and Joe were the Glee-esque characters that Gleeks loved to hate, while still tuning in every week to see what was going to happen next.

In Memorial

Tragedy hit the Glee community and family on July 13, 2013 as Cory Monteith passed away shortly before production on season five was to begin. After his passing, Glee announced that production would take a two-week hiatus, while they reworked the show and figured out how to handle Monteith’s passing. According to many sources, season five was a very Finn heavy season with his interactions with Rachel and his own maturity. Show creator Ryan Murphy announced that Monteith’s character would pass away in the third episode titled “The Quarterback“.

The show returned on September 26, 2013 to 5.06 million American viewers with an episode titled “Love, Love, Love“, a tribute episode to The Beatles that had been in the works for over four years. This episode was great, but the show was doomed. Katy Kroll of The Rolling Stones put it best “Try as the show might, the July 13th death of Cory Monteith at age 31 of a drug overdose left a dark cloud hanging over the Season Five première – no matter what the show’s stars and producers were hoping we’d see…”.

Glee's The Quarterback
Glee’s The Quarterback

The Quarterback” premiered on October 10th to 7.39 million American viewers. An episode full of emotions and tears. We saw a family mourning their brother, not actors mourning another. Majority of the episode was shot in single takes due t the tough subject. For many of Gleeks, this was the end of Glee. Gleeks said goodbye to the goofball that they learned to love over the past four years. It was weird because many fans considered Cory a friend. At this point, Glee was over and it was pretty clear.

The season continued as the ratings continued to decline and critics were watching a show slowly die. Episodes like “Movin’ Out” and “The End of Twerk” saw a spike but the show lost the grip.  With Cory gone and the odd disappearances of Heather Morris and Harry Shum Jr, the show was all over the place due to the glue of Glee gone. Glee ended season 5 on May 13, 2014 with a disappointing 1.87 million American viewers. Falling to #105 out of 181 with shows like Dads, Mixology and New Girl.

The Final Countdown

Glee is set to return on January 9th, 2015 with a special two-hour season première. Ryan Murphy announced during season five that season six would be the last season. This season would not be New York focused like season five and there would be a time skip between five and six. Season six will also include Glee’s 700th song. All that is known about season six is the first four episodes titles and track list. You can find that below. As I look upon season six, I see a season of reflection. It appears that season six may actually be an amazing season being that all the cast is returning. Ryan Murphy also has a more hands on approach to the show.

Over the years, Glee was nominated for 190 awards ranging from Dorian Awards to Grammys. Once averaging 10.11 million in viewership to now 4.57, Glee shows that anything can fall from grace. There is nobody to blame for Glee coming to end in March. Glee had a phenomenal run when you sit down and think about it. Ryan Murphy helped launched the career of many talented actors and actresses. He made his name a household name with the launch of his newest hit, American Horror Story. Ryan Murphy has produced three immensely popular shows that range from a musical comedy to a psychological thriller. At the end, we could all argue that Glee was a horrible show but it was not a failure. Glee, even in its weaker seasons, pulled in more than American Horror Story and Nip/Tuck. As many Gleeks are gearing up to say goodbye to the show that has angered, saddened and disappointed them, the world needs to take a lesson from Glee and remember that it is not over until you say it is over.

Glee’s last season will consist of 13 episodes, slashed down from 20. The show will also be moving from Tuesday at 9pm to Friday at 9pm.

Works Cited

Andreeva, Nellie. “Full Series Rankings For The 2009-10 Broadcast Season.” Deadline. N.p., 28 May 2010. Web. 19 Dec. 2014.

Bibel, Sara. “Complete List Of 2012-13 Season TV Show Viewership: ‘Sunday Night Football’ Tops, Followed By ‘NCIS,’ ‘The Big Bang Theory’ & ‘NCIS: Los Angeles'” TVbytheNumbers. N.p., 29 May 2013. Web. 17 Dec. 2014.

The Deadline Team. “Full 2013-2014 TV Season Series Rankings.” Deadline. N.p., 22 May 2014. Web. 18 Dec. 2014.

“Glee.” IMDb., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2014.

Gorman, Bill. “2010-11 Season Broadcast Primetime Show Viewership Averages.” TVbytheNumbers. N.p., 01 June 2011. Web. 19 Dec. 2014.

Gorman, Bill. “Complete List Of 2011-12 Season TV Show Viewership: ‘Sunday Night Football’ Tops, Followed By ‘American Idol,’ ‘NCIS’ & ‘Dancing With The Stars'” TVbytheNumbers. N.p., 24 May 2012. Web. 19 Dec. 2014.

Kroll, Katy. “‘Glee’ Recap: Farewell to Finn Hudson.” Rolling Stone. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Dec. 2014.

Metacritic. “Glee.” Metacritic. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Dec. 2014.

Metacritic. “Glee: Season 2.” Metacritic. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Dec. 2014.

Metacritic. “Glee: Season 3.” Metacritic. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Dec. 2014.

Metacritic. “Glee: Season 4.” Metacritic. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Dec. 2014.

Stanley, Alessandra. “Motley Crew of School Misfits Sings, and Annoys the Cool Kids.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 May 2009. Web. 19 Dec. 2014.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Wilson Williams is a senior at the Savannah College of Art and Design, studying Film and Television with a minor in creative writing.

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  1. Rowena Vaughan

    I’m pretty bummed by the direction Glee took after season 2.

    So many bad and uninteresting story lines. Needed much more character development for a lot of the characters, but they turned it into the Rachel & Kurt show. The addition of the new kids could have helped in my opinion, but the way Marley was introduced just was a turn off to many Rachel fans. They shouldn’t of even tilted that episode “The New Rachel” cause it totally put that character in a tough sot to live up to that name. I feel bad because Melissa Benoist and all the new cast were so talented… it was such a waste. Hope the clean it up in the final season.

  2. I don’t watch the show, but wasnt the last season of glee supposed to be the like…last season of glee?

  3. Glee really did last longer than it should have, an interesting concept that was never fully developed on and it also had terrible character development.

  4. Glee suffered because they decided to go with fanservicing instead of character development and good storytelling

  5. The only reason I even watched the show was for Jane Lynch. She’s hilarious. I could care less about the singing and dancing

    • Her character was just another example of terrible character development, she was funny for the first season but then it just became the same kind of thing over and over without any changes.

  6. I personally still watch Glee as do many of my friends and no I’m not a 12 yr old girl, Im a 23 yr old man and the show is far from perfect but it’s still the only show I go back to every week

  7. I think w/regards to song selection the issue has primarily been that before they choose songs to fit the story.. now they’re so popular they have all these songs and they have to write stories to match them.

  8. Jasper Belton

    Glee is nowhere near as good as it used to be it dose feel a
    bit forced now

  9. I’m just gonna say it- I’m a big fan of Glee.

  10. Clemmie

    Why does Fox even have tv shows? They just have constant re runs and 2 hours of “prime time” a night.

  11. Jacque Venus Tobias

    Wilson, thanks for the update on Glee.

  12. I think that there were too many characters, and too many sub-plots throughout the season.

  13. this show got stale faster than you can say “glee”.

  14. Glee just sounds really depressing now.

  15. Picky Taz

    The show peaked for me in its first 2 seasons (sure they were corny at times, but they were still a lot of fun). Season 3, however, was just repetitive and boring. There were a few episodes I liked like the Micheal Jackson tribute, On My Way, and Asian F is one of my favorite episodes of the series! But the problem was these characters grew stale and the humor was really lacking, so graduating everyone and introducing new characters for the 4th season I was all for.

  16. Adnan Bey

    I agree completely. Glee has fallen. It’s sad. I personally enjoyed season three but four really fell for me and five… I actually didn’t bother. The first three seasons were the best, with actual plotline and character arcs that weren’t abandoned halfway through. Switching between New York and Ohio were irritating for me. Like they couldn’t leave Rachel alone.

  17. Glee needs better guests. Who wouldn’t love to see an episode of Glee with The Rock?

  18. I like how you gave a very detailed account of the Glee timeline. As a former Glee fan myself, it was sad yet necessary to read.

    Glee took a turn for the worst after the core cast graduated, and entered a point of no return after the death of Cory Monteith. The falling of Glee was like saying goodbye to an old friend. I hope the last season can honor the original storyline in some way. I still mourn the fact that Rachel and Finn will never get their happy ending.

  19. Brianna

    As a former Glee fan, I cannot fully give a opinion on the shows rise and fall, but I can say that the way the show has been handled has been quite delicate. The death of Cory Monteith took a toll on the show, but the way it was handled in the shows storyline, was very well.

    Agreeing with a commenter above, I stopped watching after the first couple seasons. The way the show was jumped around wasn’t great and I more so enjoyed the show with Corey Monteith. I think this show would’ve been better stopped after season 2 or 3 because as also stated above, repetitiveness in the show is very boring.

  20. Morgan R. Muller

    I hate when TV shows go on longer than they should, but very good analysis and very interesting article! Awesome job!

  21. Great TV now a days on these networks.
    Really, really..Great.

    New Girl, Glee….Some of the best tv.

  22. Jane Harkness

    This brings back memories-I loved the first season of Glee and kept watching through the third season, but after a while it just couldn’t keep my attention.

  23. I used to be a HUGE Glee fan. After season 4, however, I lost interest and I feel like they should have ended it after graduation. I do agree that the show has lost its original appeal.

  24. I’ve never watched Glee, but that sounds very sad. It seems as though the show started out really well! I can understand the loss of interest in the repeditiveness and the fanservice rather than character development, though. Teen Wolf is suffering from the same disease.

  25. Shoshana

    Glee was over by season 2

  26. ashley gonzalez

    I agree with most of what has been said here, I Glee for the first few seasons but once Cory died and after graduation, I lost all desire to watch it.

  27. Fascinating!

  28. Matthew Sims

    Stopped watching somewhere near of the end of Season 2, I think. If this season is any good, I might pick it up just to see how it ends, but from what I’ve seen of recent stuff, it was all just too samey for me. Anyway, thank you for the great article.

  29. I can’t watch the show anymore, not after the death of Cory Monteith. I would likely have stopped watching the show anyway, because I didn’t like the “new directions” the show was taking after the graduation of many of my favorite characters.

  30. Helen Parshall

    Glee… had so much potential when it first started. I will say that I’m still following the show, but it’s hard to remain a fan when the story lines go so many different directions in an attempt to be inclusive to every single issue under the sun… losing sight of the characters almost in the first place.

  31. Katie Brown

    I’ve also thought that Glee’s main problem was inconsistent story-telling and characterization. That said, I did enjoy it and still do sometimes. There is no arguing that there are some very talented singers on the show.

  32. I loved the first season of Glee, but I thought it turned into a preachy Top 40 jukebox after that. What was once a fun, sweet show turned into something that took itself way too seriously, and the characters were so inconsistent. It seemed like Quinn learned and unlearned her lesson just about every other week. I don’t think I made it through season three.

  33. VelvetRose

    Glee was doomed from season three onward. They held on valiantly, but ultimately could not hold on forever. For me, one of the more annoying things about Glee was how, with each passing season, the lip syncing became more and more noticeable. Glee was a fun show that could do serious if they really wanted to (for one episode – if that). They made fun of themselves and acknowledged their plot holes within the dialogue, which added to the humour. It had a certain charm, but by season six, that charm had long flickered out of existence. I enjoyed the show, but halfway through season 4, I was done.

    All in all, good article 🙂

  34. Good article; a lot of facts backed up by evidence. I agree that the show faltered around season three and just kept declining after that. I think that the choice to not focus on the core cast in New York for season four and deciding to stick in Lima was a poor choice. There were so many fun adventures the characters could have had in New York, and there could have been cameos from previous characters scattered about. The show lost its way when that poor choice was made for season four, and the ratings suffered heavily. Renewing for two seasons at once while season four was still going on was a poor choice because it meant that the show had to find a way to keep going for two seasons, especially after the death of Cory Monteith. Plus, Ryan Murphy’s other shows sidelined him from focusing on making Glee the best it could be.

    I think that staying in high school was their biggest mistake; the show should have grown and matured along with the characters. Instead, the characters got stuck in an endless loop of stupid storylines and while it looked like some of them matured, they reverted back to their high school personas. Only the ones who escaped the show in season four managed to show the growth that they needed to, and that was only because of their rare cameos.

    • uconnhusky90

      Funny how when Glee pulled a “Hail Mary”, left high school behind and focused on just the old cast in New York, the ratings tanked. It came across like a bad knock-off of “Friends”. Episodes like “Makeover”, “Naked”, and “Guilty Pleasures” showed the dual-focus worked well when the writing was good.

      And that’s where the real problem lay – in the writing. I can’t deny most of the newbies started out as carbon-copies of the old kids (a shame, too, because the actors were great and hobbled by the poor material they were given to play). And that they were mostly given stories that kept them segregated from the old cast (The Ryder-Marley-Jake love triangle, Kitty gaslighting Marley into bulemia, Ryder being catfished by Unique). On top of that, the returning kids were changed for the worse (Sam the simpleton, Tina the shrew, Blaine the doormat – oh, wait, that had happened the previous season) with no one assuming the leadership role left vacant by Rachel Berry.

      Another issue was the constant fanservice to the alumni, who were shoe-horned into scripts and took screen time that would have been better used developing the newbies. What really hurt was the only reason they could come up with for these grads to be back was to mentor their “less-talented” replacements during competitions – effectively neutering these characters further This sent the horrible message to the audience that the New New Directions weren’t good enough to make it on their own and needed constant coaching from the old guard. Way to undermine the whole concept of the show!

      Like, DeGrassi: the Next Generation, Glee could have prospered as it turned over its cast IF the show runners had had the conviction to write out the originals and forge ahead as had been stated by Ryan Murphy early in the third season. Instead, they tried to be everything to every fan and the result just had everyone reaching for the remote.

  35. Diego Santoyo

    Glee was a pretty cool show, but I did not appreciate it as much towards the end as I did when it was at its peak.

  36. Good article. I always attributed Glee’s ruin to the fact that the characters grew so much out of their one-dimensional bubbles in the first two seasons that there was nowhere for them to go after Season 3. O and the fact that Rachael got cast in a Broadway show (and as the lead) right when she got to New York was ridiculous.

    As a theatre teacher who was teaching high school around the time the show peaked, I always enjoyed it because of how much it mirrored my life. I think that’s what a lot of people liked about it. But then it got so unrealistic, no one could relate to the Sex in the City-like plot lines of New York City.

  37. I really liked Glee when the show first started. I thought it was very commendable that the show was trying to represent the underdogs in high school, and the humiliation that they faced from their peers. I also really liked how Glee tried to bring in groups of people that were facing so much criticism and discrimination. The original characters were well-rounded, and relatable. Even though a character like Kurt was gay, he still had many other talents and aspects to his personality that were likable. His function on the show was partly to represent the gay community, but he was also a good character that viewers could connect with. Glee lost its magic when it started to create new characters for the sole purpose of representing a certain type of person. For example, Coach Beiste transitioned from female to male. I appreciate this attempt to represent the transgender community, but it just felt forced. Coach Beiste’s unique personality made her interesting, and just because she wasn’t very feminine doesn’t mean she had to make a transition to being male. It felt like the characters in Glee were just there to represent a certain group of people, and were no longer relatable or likable in other aspects of their personality. Poor character development is why Glee failed.

  38. gleelover

    Would Glee still be on TV if Cory hadn’t died? Just something to think about.

  39. Honestly, the first 3 seasons were the best, but it took a nosedive from there. I couldn’t keep watching after season 3 and only came back for “The Quarterback”. This show will always have a special place in my heart, but I just didn’t love it as much after the core characters graduated and it seemed worse after Cory passed away

  40. Speaking as someone who was a devoted Gleek, even I can’t deny that the show took a nosedive after the first 3 seasons and while it had a phenomenal run, it ended well after it should’ve.

  41. Oh boy I feel like The Quarterback gets even harder since Naya Rivera’s passing, thanks to her semi-unscripted breakdown. my poor heart!

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