What Could've Been
Justin Timberlake was Ryan Murphy's original vision for Mr. Shue in 'Glee'

Justin Timberlake Was Originally Supposed To Play Glee's Worst Character

Mr. Schue was going to be *very* different.

by Ani Bundel
WWD/Penske Media/Getty Images

For all its faults, Glee was one of the foundations of 21st-century television. It ushered in an era in which shows weren’t afraid to be musicals, and dramas saw the benefits of going over the top. It also launched the career of Lea Michele, turned Jane Lynch into a household name, and laid the foundation for Ryan Murphy’s TV empire. However, Glee could have been very different, as Murphy recently admitted Mr. Schuester was initially written for pop star Justin Timberlake.

With the series’ 15th anniversary coming up, there’s been an uptick in interest in looking back at the series, which ended in 2015 after six seasons. Plus, with rewatch podcasts all the rage these days, it only makes sense for iHeartRadio to launch a nostalgic Glee reap pod. Thus was born the new podcast, And That’s What You REALLY Missed, hosted by former Glee stars Kevin McHale and Jenna Ushkowitz, who played Artie Abrams and Tina Cohen-Chang, respectively.

McHale and Ushkowitz were two of the show’s original core cast, and their extensive behind-the-scenes knowledge makes this a much-listen show for the Glee fanatics. More importantly, their first episode, released on Oct. 31, 2022, featured Ryan Murphy as a guest, and he had tons of tea to spill about the show’s original concept.

Murphy came armed with a couple of big reveals about the role of teacher Will Schuester, who kicked off the series when he decided to take on the school’s show choir. The first reveal was that the original script, penned by series co-creator Ian Brennan, was much darker. “Mr. Schue, I believe, was a crystal meth addict in Ian's script,” Murphy said on the episode.


That wasn’t all, either. Schue was not a positive role model. Murphy called Shue “a weird protagonist who was unraveling,” and hinted the original script called for him to be far more predatory, referring to it as “The NC-17 version of show choir.” But then Murphy told Brennan they needed to make it more pop-y and optimistic.

Murphy’s biggest reveal, though, was that Shue was initially written to be played by a huge pop star. “When we were writing the pilot, I’ve never really talked about, that pilot was written for Justin Timberlake,” Murphy said.

Timberlake was pushing to get into acting around the show’s beginnings in 2008, having earned accolades for his appearances in 2006’s Black Snake Moan and 2007’s Shrek sequel. He’d gone so far as to completely take a break from music entirely and was filming Oscar-nominated movies like 2010’s The Social Network. A TV vehicle was precisely the sort of thing his people would have considered.

Like all good Glee episodes, the first And That’s What You REALLY Missed episode ended with that cliffhanger reveal. Ushkowitz promised more details to come in Episode 2. Until then, all seasons of Glee are streaming on Hulu and Disney+.