When Ian Brennan joined the show choir at Prospect High School in the mid-1990s, he never expected that the experience would one day form the basis of a network television show.
America will get its first taste of "Glee," the hourlong comedy that Brennan co-created and co-writes, at 8 p.m. tonight on Fox. Brennan, a Mount Prospect native who graduated from Prospect in 1996, said his time on the school's stage served as the guiding inspiration for the project.
"It's such a strange phenomenon," Brennan said of show choir. "It doesn't really exist except in high schools, and maybe cruise ships. I figured there was the potential for some really good stories there."
"Glee" centers around a Midwestern high school whose glee club used to be the toast of the show choir world, but has since become a hive for adolescent misfits. A young teacher (Matthew Morrison) tries to whip the group into shape in time for Nationals.
In an unusual programming move, the Fox network will air a special preview of "Glee" tonight right after "American Idol." However, the show won't begin its formal season run until this fall. If you miss it, don't worry: The preview episode will be available at fox.com/glee until the fall season begins.
Brennan said the show both celebrates and skewers the phenomenon of competitive high school show choirs. Parts of the show exhibit the caustic humor of a film like "Election," while others hit unabashedly sweet and romantic high-school notes, he said.
And while the one-hour episodes will feature plenty of singing and dancing, Brennan said audiences should not expect "Glee" to simply be a hipper version of "High School Musical." "This isn't the kind of thing where the characters just suddenly break into song," he said. "The musical numbers occur organically within the story. The show is unlike anything else on television, which I think will be a big part of its appeal."
"Glee" started as a film script. After graduating from Loyola University in 2000, Brennan made a living as an actor, first on the Chicago stage and then in New York. He had never written anything before, but the idea of a movie about show choirs kept nagging at him.
"So I bought 'Screenwriting for Dummies,' loaded screenwriting software into my computer and wrote a script," he said. "I figured if I didn't write it, someone else would, and then I'd always be kicking myself."
Brennan finished the script in 2005. For a couple of years, he shopped it around with little success. Then a friend of his handed it to Ryan Murphy, a veteran television writer and producer whose credits include "Nip/Tuck" and "Popular."
Murphy liked it, but pitched the idea back to Brennan as a television series, rather than a film.
"I was excited about that idea, so we basically went about rewriting the whole thing from scratch," Brennan said.
Tonight's preview, directed by Murphy, is scheduled in part to introduce the show to the massive "Idol" audience. Brennan said Fox is excited about the show and plans to promote it heavily as the fall season approaches.
"The network has been great," he said. "In today's environment, it's nice to see a scripted show that's a little offbeat get solid network support."
Brennan and his co-writers are now finishing up the second half of the 13-episode first season. He splits his time between New York and Los Angeles, where he works on the "Glee" scripts.
The turns Brennan's career has taken in the past year have left him a bit disoriented, he said. To imagine the feeling, think about the rush a show choir singer might feel after belting out a killer version of "Don't Stop Believin'."
"It's been so weird," Brennan said. "I was very happy doing my thing as an actor in New York, and then out of nowhere all this happens and I'm suddenly living in L.A. as a writer. I almost feel like this has all been an elaborate prank."