NBC Rains on 'Glee's' Thanksgiving Day Parade

By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The gang behind "Glee," the new Fox series about a dweeby high school glee club, is very sad because they thought they'd been invited to perform at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, only now they're not.

The invitation was withdrawn after NBC, which shells out millions for exclusive broadcast rights to the parade performances, told Macy's ixnay on the "Eeglay."

"As you know, the GLEE kids were invited to ride a float in the MACY's parade and do 'Don't Stop Believin',' " said an internal memo circulating the halls of 20th Century Fox TV, which produces the show for the Fox broadcast network.

"We were already discussing wardrobe and choreography when we heard late last week that NBC was forcing the parade producers to withdraw the invitation because 'Glee' aired on a competing network."

Macy's and 20th Century Fox TV had their first date to discuss "Glee" a couple of weeks ago, according to a studio insider, who did not want to be named (because the person would get in trouble). The two parties hit it off so well that in no time they were discussing details like what float the cast members would ride on along the parade route, how they would perform on the stage that is set up every year right outside Macy's flagship store in midtown Manhattan, at what hotel the cast would be put up, etc.

Then, out of the blue, Macy's called and broke up with "Glee," saying it had to withdraw the offer after NBC told the store it did not want the Fox series, which is far from being an out-of-the-gate hit, getting a big fat plug on NBC's parade broadcast.

An NBC insider said the network traditionally works with Macy's to decide what performers are approached about doing numbers during the parade. In this case, says the network insider (who also did not want to be named because the person also would get in trouble), Macy's had extended the invitation to "Glee" before informing NBC.

A Macy's rep wasn't going there -- and would only tell the TV Column that the event's "bookings process is fluid and because of that we don't confirm [who's performing] until Nov. 1."

Which is hooey, according to people we talked to at other non-Fox, non-NBC networks that have had cast members from their shows perform in the parade in years past and who say those bookings are often locked in as early as mid-October. Which is, of course, now.

For the record, NBC and 20th Century Fox TV declined to comment for this column.

But, according to the production-house source who cannot be named, the Macy's people said NBC had "never batted an eyelash" in the past when the department store chain invited winners from "American Idol" (also a Fox show) to perform at the parade. Ditto when Macy's invited cast members from Disney Channel's "High School Musical."

NBC only required that the competitors' shows be a "cultural touchstone of the moment, which, the source said, " 'Glee' clearly is."

Let's set aside the discussion of whether a broadcast TV show that clocks around 8 million viewers qualifies as "cultural touchstone." Yes, we know, "Glee" tunes do really well on iTunes -- which is just another way of saying the parameters for success on broadcast TV are tougher than for any other slice of the entertainment industry. Put another way: 1 million album sales takes you platinum and makes you a star, but 1 million viewers gets you canceled on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and, usually, even CW.

Here's the bigger picture. Broadcast networks do not, as a rule, do other broadcast networks a favor. NBC has never allowed Macy's to feature the cast members of "American Idol" performing in the parade. What they have okayed is featuring the winner of the most recent edition of "Idol" (which would have wrapped six months earlier, because the program airs from January through May), a winner who would be putting out an album for the holiday season, to perform during the parade. This is not doing "Idol" any favor. This is "Idol" doing NBC a favor, frankly, what with the competition show still capable of attracting an audience of nearly 30 million viewers.

Letting the cast of "Glee" perform in the parade, on the other hand, would be doing "Glee" -- and Fox -- a whopping favor. It's hard to imagine NBC being okay with coughing up millions of dollars for the exclusive broadcast rights to the parade performances and then standing by while Macy's puts a competing network's hit-in-search-of-an-audience in front of the parade's more than 20 million viewers.

Now, about "High School Musical." Regardless of whether the broadcast networks should make distinctions between broadcast shows and cable shows, they do so anyway. Broadcast networks are direct competitors; cable networks, not so much. That's why you will see ads for cable networks during commercial breaks on broadcast TV shows. I know it's strange, but there it is.

So yes, NBC gave Macy's the thumbs-up when Macy's wanted to feature a performance by four cast members of "HSM" back in November 2006, when the Disney program had premiered with a "Glee"-like 8 million viewers and the companion CD was on track to be the top-selling album of the year. Since then, some cast members from the "HSM" franchise have performed in the parade.

And, then, of course, there's the whole "family viewing" issue. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of the premiere family telecasts of the year. "Glee," meanwhile, in its few weeks on the air, has already plowed through story lines about faked pregnancies, head cheerleaders lying about who is their baby daddy, recreational bulimia, and the glee club getting revved up on decongestants pushed on them by the high school Spanish teacher's wife.

Then of course there's that ongoing gag about the high school's football hero who, every time he starts to become sexually aroused, flashes back to when he hit a mail carrier with his car.

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