Broadway producers, no doubt, are delighted to have received four Emmy nominations for their 2009 Tony Awards telecast, with nods for direction, writing and art direction for a variety, music or comedy special and a category (don't laugh) called "special class programs."

What I suspect has them over the moon, however, are those 19 nominations for a seemingly unrelated little program on Fox. We speak, of course, of "Glee," probably the best thing to happen to Broadway demographics since - well, since nothing I can remember.

In just one season, "Glee" may have managed what all the marketing geniuses and ad budgets have been struggling to do since '50s rock snatched the hit parade from the American musical. The series, about a high-school chorus in small-town Ohio, has made musicals - not just rock musicals - seem really cool.

It has done this, and it has made such theater treasures as Matthew Morrison ("South Pacific") and Lea Michele ("Spring Awakening") into huge stars, with a remarkable lack of obvious do-gooder intentions. Creator Ryan Murphy has plenty of honorable messages in his irreverent and witty embrace of outsiderness. But just as he boldly and casually pushes the hot buttons on teen sex and a rainbow coalition of individual rights for ethnic minorities, gays, the disabled, the overweight, the stuttering and the muscle-brained popular, he has made show tunes as organic as pop to the everyday thrills and agonies of growing up.

No statistics on the show's impact on Broadway exist - yet - but Broadway producer Eric Krebs did just create a website, StudentRush.org, to provide new audiences with easy information about cheap seats. As Krebs sees it, " 'Glee' introduces kids who would not otherwise see Kristin Chenoweth or Jonathan Groff the way Ed Sullivan did for another generation. Anytime you can get young people excited about live performance, it speaks well for the future of Broadway and all of live theater around the country."

"Glee," which has introduced the word "gleeks" to the lexicon of nerd glamour, is both a dumb show that pretends to be smart and a smart show pretending to be dumb. It is an afterschool special on truth serum, a high-school musical with genuine musicality, a stylized fantasy in a medium that deludes itself as realistic.

People aren't supposed to burst into song and dance on TV, unless they're in a variety show or a music video. "Cop Rock" couldn't do it. Although Joss Whedon did it once, in a landmark musical episode of "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer," it has been generally agreed that musical interludes in a television story make viewers cringe.

The difference in "Glee" is that the songs are what theater people call "source" material. That is, the music comes from the source of the story. The students and teachers are supposed to sing because this is a series centered around a glee club - or, sorry, what they call show chorus. It is just a tiny conceptual leap for the songs to morph into high-polished production numbers - twirling wheelchairs for Tina Turner's "Rolling on the River" or major backup for the terrific gay kid (Emmy-nominated Chris Colfer) singing the green witch's stratospheric "Defying Gravity" from "Wicked."

We would be fools to think "Glee" will help return serious music education to schools. There are no intentions here to open the wonders of classical music to the minds of the young and / or distracted of America. The early episodes did sneak subliminal appreciation for Debussy and Beethoven through scat accompaniments between scenes, but even that tokenism was abandoned as the show became a mass-cult phenomenon.

An opportunity lost? Yes, indeed. And to my taste, the values lean too heavily on screamers and wailers - "Wicked" and "Les Misérables," that already have their audiences. But there are delicious surprises. Artie, the kid in the wheelchair, is the center of "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" from "Guys and Dolls." Tina, the Asian girl who apparently stutters, competes with the obnoxious but endearing diva Rachel (Michele) for a stab at "Tonight" from "West Side Story."

Morrison is the graceful hunk at the center as the devoted teacher with a crumbling marriage and a budget hogged by popular sports. Jane Lynch, as coach of the cheerleaders, is the unredeemable villain - Cruella De Vil in a track suit - who is smashing in a re-creation of Madonna's "Vogue."

Successful tributes to Madonna and Lady Gaga mean Britney Spears and Courtney Love are coming. But weekly guest stars from Broadway are catnip to the theater chat rooms. Chenoweth and Neil Patrick Harris both have guest Emmy nominations for star turns as school alums who have fallen on really hard times. Chenoweth sings "Maybe This Time" from "Cabaret." The episode with (a hauntingly good) Harris was directed by "Buffy's" Whedon. The astonishing likeness between Idina Menzel and Michele becomes significant when Rachel, who has two daddies, looks for her mother - to the tune of "I Dreamed a Dream" from "Les Mis."

The best teachers are flawed but wonderful. The others - a pedophile, a cough-medicine addict - are flawed but almost understood. The mean popular kids get taught lessons, but not in mean ways. Scenes can be ridiculous, but almost all are grounded in real life. There are no massacres. Drugs and alcohol are hardly a problem. And the girls, even the sexy ones, dress like young girls instead of women of the night. In other words, Broadway is not the only beneficiary of this odd and lovable show.