Musical episodes have become a tradition in television, captivating audiences with their unique blend of storytelling and music. From their humble beginnings to their current popularity, these episodes have taken viewers on a delightful journey through the years.
Musical episodes often feature original songs specifically written for the show, allowing the characters to express their emotions and advance the narrative through music. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is often credited as the first TV show to do a musical episode, but there were many before that, including Xena: Warrior Princess.
A musical awakening: The birth of musical episodes
In 1956, a musical episode of I Love Lucy called Lucy Goes to Scotland featured a Brigadoon-inspired musical number.
However, the concept of musical episodes on television can be traced back to the 1960s, with the groundbreaking show The Monkees. This NBC series followed a group of young men who formed a band and used their music to solve various problems. The Monkees laid the foundation for the musical episode trend that would emerge in the years to come.
Fame lights the spark
In 1982, Fame, a film about a special arts high school in New York City, made its way to the small screen. NBC turned the film into a weekly drama series, and despite modest ratings, it garnered critical acclaim. Starring original film choreographer Debbie Allen, Fame earned multiple Emmy awards and a Golden Globe for Best Series: Musical or Comedy.
Although the series ended in 1987, it laid the groundwork for future musical television shows.
Musicals find a home in sci-fi and fantasy shows
While the idea of musical episodes in TV series lost its appeal, the sci-fi and fantasy genres saw an opportunity to experiment with music. In 1997, Xena: Warrior Princess aired the groundbreaking episode, The Bitter Suite, which featured Xena and Gabrielle working out their problems through music and lyrics. The episode seamlessly integrated original songs into the storyline, providing deeper insights into the characters’ emotions. The Bitter Suite even had an accompanying soundtrack.
The episode received several Emmy award nominations and paved the way for other shows to explore the musical format.
In 2000 Xena released another musical episode called Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire. This episode was more upbeat and featured many mainstream songs.
Ally McBeal followed suit in 2000 with its musical episode, The Musical, Almost, which showcased the cast’s talents and received praise for its efforts.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer sings its heart out
In 2001, Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired its musical episode, Once More, With Feeling. This highly anticipated episode, which ran ten minutes longer than usual, seamlessly integrated original songs into the complex storyline. Once More, With Feeling was a resounding success, pushing each character into their next story arc.
The episode also had a soundtrack that reached the Billboard charts, solidifying the TV musical genre’s place in popular culture.
Successes and failures: Musical episodes become a trend
Following the success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, more TV series began experimenting with musical episodes. Shows like Psych and Scrubs had successful musical episodes that delighted fans with their catchy tunes and humorous lyrics. However, not every attempt was a hit, as evidenced by the less well-received musical episodes of 7th Heaven and Grey’s Anatomy. Despite occasional missteps, the genre continued to gain traction, with shows like Oz, That 70’s Show, and Fringe putting their own spin on the musical format.
From Glee to greatness: The rise of musical series
The success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer paved the way for the emergence of musical series, with one show, in particular, leading the charge – Glee. Premiering in 2009, Glee brought the musical genre to the forefront of television, following the journey of a high school glee club and showcasing its members’ performances of popular songs. The show became a cultural phenomenon, with its cast members becoming household names and its music dominating the charts.
Glee proved that there was a massive audience for musical series, further fueling the demand for more musical episodes.
In 2017, The Flash released its musical episode, Duet. Glee alum Grant Gustin proved he still had it, accompanied by Mellisa Benoist, Jesse L Martin, Victor Garber and John Barrowman.
The allure of musical episodes
So why do television shows continue to produce musical episodes? The answer lies in the unique blend of entertainment and emotional connection these episodes provide. Musical episodes offer a break from the norm, infusing stories with catchy tunes and captivating performances. They allow characters to express their emotions in a way that words alone cannot convey, creating a deeper connection between the audience and the narrative.
These episodes also offer a creative outlet for the show’s talent, allowing triple threat actors to showcase their singing, dancing and acting abilities. Furthermore, musical episodes attract new viewers and engage existing fans, offering a refreshing and memorable experience.