4 Questions Raised By the Glee Tribute Episode to Cory Monteith

Fox's (NASDAQ: FOX  ) Glee aired its eagerly awaited tribute to Cory Monteith last night, leaving us with four key questions concerning how the entertainment industry deals with death.

Monteith, who played kindhearted singing quarterback Finn Hudson, died on July 13 from a toxic mix of alcohol and heroin.

The episode, in which the main characters paid a musical tribute to Monteith's character, blurred the lines between reality and fantasy -- Finn, who had been at the show's core from the very first episode, was eventually erased without a clear explanation of his death.

Source: Ibtimes.com

The episode likely either satisfied or saddened fans of the show, but in the end a clear message was delivered -- the show must go on.

Perhaps Glee's producers and cast did Monteith justice by letting the show's fans remember him in his fictional form, but Fox's decision to continue airing the show raises four broader questions.

Question 1: How do people deal with death in the age of social media?

In the weeks following Monteith's death, social networks like Twitter and Facebook (NASDAQ: FB  ) were flooded with messages of grief about his passing. Monteith's own final tweet before his death was a humorous quip about the film Sharknado, and his Twitter account remains there as a digital tombstone filled with his final thoughts.

To address this kind of issue, where the dead continue eerily living online, Facebook allows personal pages to be turned into memorial pages upon notification of death where people can share their thoughts.

Yet an uneasy feeling remains. With today's advanced sharing technologies, information on the Internet stays there forever, boosting people's sense of self-importance and immortality. Therefore, today's world is one in which reality and fantasy are increasingly blurred, and dead celebrities come back to posthumously release albums and movies.

Question 2: Can anyone really rest in peace in the entertainment industry?

Throughout last night's show, Cory Monteith sang several songs by the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson. His stirring rendition of "Man in the Mirror" during season 3 was particularly poignant, considering his own struggles with drug addiction.

Yet just like Jackson, Monteith is living on after his death, raising the question -- does the entertainment industry ever let anyone rest in peace?

In October 2009, Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) released Michael Jackson's This Is It, splicing together footage of the late singer's final concert rehearsals into a final film. The production of the film by AEG Live, which was accused of overworking the late singer prior to his death, was vehemently criticized by the Jackson family and fans, who launched a Facebook campaign against the film entitled "This Is Not It".

Ultimately, those protests did little to stop Sony from releasing the film, which grossed $261 billion worldwide on a production budget of $60 million.

Source: Soulculture.co.uk

Many other musical artists have continued generating revenue for recording studios after their deaths with posthumous releases. 2Pac, who was gunned down in 1996, released a whopping seven albums posthumously between 1996 and 1999.

Question 3: Should Fox have canceled Glee?

While Michael Jackson and 2Pac's posthumous productions were a result of them passing away at the peak of their popularity, Fox's decision to continue airing Glee after the loss of Monteith, one of the central characters of the show, is a bit tougher to understand.

As seen in the following chart, Glee's viewership has been declining ever since its highly successful first two seasons.

 

Premiere viewers

Year-over-year change

Finale viewers

Year-over-year change

Season 1

9.62 million

--

10.92 million

--

Season 2

12.45 million

29.4%

11.8 million

8%

Season 3

9.21 million

(26%)

7.46 million

(36.8%)

Season 4

7.41 million

(19.5%)

5.92 million

(26%)

Source: Wikipedia.com, author's calculations

It's not hard to see where Glee was headed, with fewer viewers returning season after season. Fox's aging American Idol, by comparison, still reported 17.9 million viewers for its season 12 premiere and 14.3 million during its finale.

In an interview following Monteith's death, Glee producer Ryan Murphy stated that the decision to finish filming the fifth season was ultimately made by Lea Michele, Monteith's real-life girlfriend who also plays his love interest Rachel Berry on the show, for the sake of keeping everyone involved in the show employed.

Yet judging from Glee's declining ratings and the loss of Monteith, one has to wonder how much longer the show can go on. Monteith wasn't the only actor with his passing written into a show -- other abrupt deaths such as Phil Hartman in NewsRadio and John Ritter in 8 Simple Rules were also written directly into their storylines.

Question 4: Do businesses strive to live forever as well?

The ability of famous people to live past their deaths in business extends far beyond the world of show business, however.

After the death of Steve Jobs, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) attempted to keep his memory alive for as long as possible, and widely publicized that the iPhone 5 was the last handset that Jobs had worked on. To this day, Jobs, not Tim Cook, is still widely seen as the face of Apple, publicized by posters, books, and even two new movies.

The same can be said about the retail apparel industry. Designers like Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, and Perry Ellis passed away long ago, but their names have taken on a life of their own. Even the Fox Network still bears the name of William Fox, the company's founder who lost control of his company in 1930.

Therefore, companies are very much like celebrities in showbiz -- the top ones never really die, they simply keep evolving over the years. Even though celebrities like Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe are gone, they are immortalized through their music and films, which are passed down from generation to generation.

A final thought

Cory Monteith appeared to be destined for greatness, and his bright star burned out far too soon.

I was saddened by his untimely death, but the show glossed over some important lessons for viewers of the show -- that addiction kills and young people should treasure their health and their lives.

The denial of "the end" -- whether it be for individuals or the industries that they work in -- is worth discussing. Is it what makes us all stronger, by extending our future ambitions beyond death, or does it desensitize us to it?


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