Sunday, April 25, on TV Land, Fox's runaway hit "Glee" becomes the latest recipient of the Future Classic award at the cable channel's annual salute to the best of classic television, the TV Land Awards.
"Glee" is an anomaly on the current television landscape -- a scripted series with a musical component. It wasn't that long ago, however, that characters on a variety of scripted shows got their song on. Here's a sampling of the good, bad and ugly of small-screen musical moments, sitcom and drama division.
If "Glee" has a spiritual ancestor, it's "Fame," the drama series spun off from the 1980 big-screen feature set in New York's High School of Performing Arts, where song and dance weren't an extracurricular activity -- they were the curriculum. The series debuted on NBC, where it spent a season before moving to first-run syndication for the next four years.
Broadway veteran Debbie Allen was a key player on and off-camera, portraying dance teacher Lydia Grant and lending her choreography skills to the musical numbers -- winning two Emmys for the latter. Younger cast members included Carlo Imperato, Erica Gimpel and Gene Anthony Ray.
The most common form of scripted series with songs, however, is the one centered around one or more characters who are professional performers. These days, such shows are generally found on Disney Channel -- "Hannah Montana," "Jonas," "I'm in the Band."
Before Hannah and the Jonases were even a gleam in the Mouse's eye, though, we had "The Monkees," NBC's slapsticky and often surreal 1966-68 sitcom about a four-man band (Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork). Originally cast for their acting, with session players supplying the actual music, the four stars fought for -- and won -- the right to make their own music. The band's career didn't outlast the show for very long, but during its run, the Monkees had a respectable series of hits, including "Last Train to Clarksville" and "I'm a Believer."
Two years after "The Monkees" left the air, another music-oriented sitcom arrived on ABC. "The Partridge Family" (1970-74) chronicled the exploits of a family band loosely based on the Cowsills ("The Rain, the Park and Other Things"). Shirley Jones and her real-life stepson David Cassidy headed the cast as single mom Shirley Partridge and eldest son Keith and were the only ones who lent their real voices to the band. The series spawned several hit records, including "I Think I Love You," and catapulted Cassidy to the teen magazine covers formerly dominated by the Monkees.
Less memorable -- perhaps for the clunkiness of the concept -- is the small-screen equivalent of the movie or stage musical, in which the characters burst into song to further the plot. The most notorious example is "Cop Rock," producer Stephen Bochco's ("Hill Street Blues") ill-conceived attempt at a gritty police drama with tunes. Critics gave Bochco props for originality, but viewers gave the show a big thumbs-down, and it left the air after only a three-month run in 1990.
A slightly more successful example of the scripted-series-as-musical is "That's Life," which managed to eke out an entire season on ABC in 1968-69. Broadway veteran Robert Morse ("How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying") and E.J. Peaker played a young couple who frequently burst into song as they dealt with the day-to-day challenges of married life. Still a bit jarring, to be sure, but less so than "Hill Street Blues: The Musical."
Recent years have seen the emergence of a variation on this theme: the musical episode of an otherwise nonmusical series. Memorable examples include "Ally McBeal" in 2000, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" in 2001, "7th Heaven" in 2005 and "Scrubs" in 2007. Fan reaction ranged from "Hey, cool!" to "What were they thinking?" What "they" were thinking, of course, was most likely "ratings gimmick."
Of course, when you have actors with musical talent, you want to showcase it. CBS' "How I Met Your Mother" has the right idea -- the occasional musical number, such as Barney's (Neil Patrick Harris) salute to suits earlier this season. And Fox's "House" occasionally gives star Hugh Laurie a chance to show off his piano skills. More such occasions, please!Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun