If Glee creator Ryan Murphy had had his way, the show would have been "bringin' sexy back" from the start. That's because Murphy intended the part of Will Schuester, the teacher who forms a show choir at McKinley High, for someone other than actor Matthew Morrison.
"When we were writing the pilot, I've never really talked about this, that pilot was written for Justin Timberlake," Murphy said Monday on Glee cast members' Kevin McHale and Jenna Ushkowitz's new podcast, And That's What You REALLY Missed. "Mr. Schue was written for Justin."
While details on the reason Timberlake, the musician and sometimes actor, didn't pan out as a cast member reportedly will come on the upcoming second episode of the podcast, Murphy did explain how Glee came about at all in the first part of his interview with the former Artie and Tina. Murphy, who's gone on to create American Horror Story and many other projects, had a TV deal, but he wasn't sure exactly what he was going to do. He'd been trying to come up with a viable idea for a musical.
"Like serendipity, I went to the gym and I was in a towel and a guy came up ... and handed me a script and he said, 'I have a feeling you were in show choir. Am I right?' And I was like 'Yeah.'" Murphy said. "And he said, 'My friend wrote this script and you should read it,' and he gave it to me."
When Murphy read it on a plane a couple of weeks later, it was "a very dark comedy," in the vein of the 1999 Reese Witherspoon-Matthew Broderick movie Election.
"But like the NC-17 version of show choir with a weird protagonist who was unraveling. Mr. Schue ... I believe, was a crystal meth addict in Ian's script," Murphy said of the pilot eventually co-written by himself, Ian Brennan and Brad Falchuk.
Murphy liked the script, but he felt like he needed to do something optimistic and "poppy" after years executive-producing the drama Nip/Tuck and working on a failed show called Pretty/Handsome. So he and the writers leaned into the happy, and ta-da!
He made one major exception, when he was told that he needed to add in someone who was bad and that the audience could hate. He imagined "a Jane Lynch-type person," and that actually happened. Lynch played the part for the villainous Sue Sylvester for all six seasons.
Murphy also said that he was deeply affected by the loss of central cast member Cory Monteith, who played Finn and died of an accidental drug overdose in July 2013. The final episode aired almost two years later, in March 2015, with the show having earned a devoted following of fans, countless music hits and awards, including six primetime Emmys. And yet Murphy was not as close to the show as he had been in its early years.
"The thing that happened for me, to be blunt, was Cory [Monteith] died," Murphy said, acknowledging that he was closer to the show and its cast in its early days. "And then, after Cory's death, I had to plan a memorial service, and I was like, I don't know how to do this anymore. I can't ... I don't know what to do.' And it was so painful and dark, and I think we all felt that."