The episode’s three-hankie music covers have been released, media polls have been created so you can vote which made you cry hardest, the creator has spoken of weeping cast members shooting excruciatingly emotional scenes, the tabloids have written about the mysterious exclusion from the episode of the actress who played his original love interest – it’s time for Fox to air the Cory Monteith tribute episode of Glee tonight and see how America reacts.

Fox and the show creators had decided, shortly after Monteith’s death, to air a couple of original episodes first, followed by a Monteith tribute episode this week, which got the episode away from the crush of new-show premieres and returning show debuts. Among Fox competitors this week, talk seemed to be split between those who think this episode will pack a wallop, and those who expressed surprise the episode hasn’t generated more buzz and wonder if Fox waited too long to deal on-air with the actor’s death.

Similarly, back when John Ritter, star of its comedy Eight Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter died before its season debut, with three new episodes in the can, ABC decided to air the three episodes that featured Ritter, after which it would air one that dealt with the star’s death. Public response was tremendous. The first episode of that 8 Simple Rules season logged 17 million viewers and a 7 demo rating – more than double the previous season’s finale numbers. People continued to tune in, until the episode in which Ritter’s character died. That night, the comedy  skyrocketed:  nearly 21 million people tuned in, including 8.1% of the country’s 18-49 year olds.

Glee’s season has not gone similarly, perhaps because the early episodes did not feature Monteith, who also had been missing from the final episodes of last season after checking himself into rehab. This season’s debut came in shy of last-season’s finale, and the first two episodes of this season fell 20% in overall audience, and 28% in the demo compared to the first two episodes of the previous season (which, in turn, had been down double digits compared to the first two episodes of the season before that).

The network may have waited too long to say goodbye to Monteith – tonight’s tribute will be at least the third TV has made to the actor. In August, Lea Michele, who played Monteith’s on-screen romantic interest and who was dating him off, tearily dedicated Glee’s win at the Teen Choice Awards to Monteith, saying, “For all of you out there who loved and admired Cory as much as I did, I promise that, with your love, we’re going to get through this together…He was very special to me, and also to the world, and we were very lucky to witness his incredible talent, his handsome smile, and his beautiful, beautiful heart.” One month later, during an Emmy tribute to the actor, Jane Lynch spoke eloquently about Monteith and the “tragic reminder of the rapacious, senseless destruction that is brought on by addiction.”

Details of tonight’s tribute have, understandably, been kept under wraps for maximum impact. Cast member Mike O’Malley seemed off-put when, at a recent event, he was asked about details of Finn’s death in the episode: “He dies of cancer, in a car accident, he dies of old age, he dies because of a drug overdose – it doesn’t matter…He’s gone and you’re never going to see him again.” O’Malley said the episode, adding it would “honor his fans’ relationship with the character.”