Interviews & Profiles

Feud: A Profile of Ryan Murphy

Ryan Murphy – By iDominick [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Without a doubt one of the most prolific creators and executive producers of television working today in the US, Ryan Murphy, like Greg Berlanti, seems as if he is on a one person quest to get as many shows on to the airwaves bearing his name as possible.

With an ability to move between network television and cable, he has crafted shows that have stretched the boundaries of content, while delivering series that are capable of being viewed on the one hand by adults, as well as others by younger audiences, although for the most part his shows have more often walked on the darker and more adult side of things.

Beginning his career as a journalist, it was when he sold a script for a potential movie bearing the title Why Can’t I Be Audrey Hepburn? that he first gain notice, a script which led to him co-creating the teen drama Popular for The WB network. Only running for two seasons, the series struggled in the ratings but gained good reviews from critics for its somewhat absurdist look at various teen television clichés.

Next up was a series that would end up cementing his reputation: Nip/Tuck. Inspired by research he conducted into the world of plastic surgery when working as a journalist, the series starred Julian McMahon, Dylan Walsh and Joely Richardson, and was compulsive, well rated but also controversial due to its graphic depictions of surgery, sequences which were usually scored to a killer soundtrack.

Running for six seasons, and becoming one of the F/X cable network’s highest rated shows, the series was a darker concoction than Popular and could be seen as solidifying the Murphy style of show.

Amazingly Murphy would end up back on network television, this time the Fox Network, creating one of the biggest shows to air on the network. Glee was a co-creation with Brad Falchuck and Ian Brennan, and was centred around New Directions, a high school choir at the fictional William McKinley High School.

A massive success right from the off, the series captured many an imagination, not to mention launching the careers of several of its younger cast, including Lea Michele, Melissa Benoist and Grant Gustin, while giving Jane Lynch the show stealing role of Sue Sylvester.

Not long after came Murphy’s biggest success yet, and the show that revolutionised the anthology format for television, something which Murphy has had a big hand in helping steer in an era where on-going serialisation has become a big thing.

American Horror Story, a co-creation with Brad Falchuck, debuted on F/X and became a massive success right away. Its first season, which has since be re-branded Murder House, snagged positive reviews and high ratings, with audiences becoming gripped by its intense, highly sexual and violent narrative concerning the Harmon family and the supernatural nature of their new home.

Although Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton and Taissa Farmiga were part of the main cast, Jessica Lange and Evan Peters were also there, not to mention a guest starring appearance from Sarah Paulson, and they would subsequently return for future seasons, albeit playing different characters in different stories, each season taking a sub-genre of horror and playing up tropes associated with it, twisting those tropes up or applying them to full on effect.

It is currently one of the most popular shows on television and has recently concluded its seventh season.

Not long after, Murphy, alongside Ali Adler, co-created The New Normal, a comedy series about a gay couple having a child via surrogate. Starring Justin Bartha, Andrew Renells and Ellen Barkin, the series was cancelled after only one season, but Murphy would rebound massively with his next series.

Although not a creator of American Crime Story, that honour going to Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the series was executive produced by Murphy, who would also direct several episodes, while Sarah Paulson was part of the main cast, and Connie Britton would show up also.

With each season set to cover a separate, famous crime, the first season was centred around the trial of O.J Simpson. What could very easily have been tabloid television  instead became a compulsive and intelligent drama, as much about today as it was about an infamous 1994 murder case. A second and third season went into development concurrently, and amazingly its the planned third season that has ended up coming to the screens first, with The Assassination of Gianni Versace. The planned second season, set around the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, will now be produced as the third.

The mythology format has been where Murphy has clearly excelled. Some of the most common criticisms levelled at his work such as Nip/Tuck and Glee is that they started brilliantly, but became less so as they went on, something that is not really a threat when it comes to the anthology format, with each season effectively becoming a different show with a different story, with the only constants being key members of the cast.

While Feud is his next series, and television is where he has made a massive name for himself, movies have also featured prominently in his output. 2006’s Running with Scissors was an adaptation of Augusten Burroughs memoirs, while in 2010 be brought the Julia Roberts vehicle Eat, Pray, Love to the screen, itself based on the famous memoir of Elizabeth Gilbert.

His movie output hasn’t been restricted to the silver screen either; in 2014 he brought Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart to the screen as HBO movie, casting Mark Ruffalo and Matthew Bomer in the lead roles.

Prolific and not afraid to push the envelope and present content that pushes the boundaries to the point of extreme, Murphy is without doubt one of the biggest figures working today, and with a body of work that is both confrontational and yet deeply intelligent, he is someone whose work stands out in an era when so much television is out there just waiting to be consumed.

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