Ryan Murphy has never been known for keeping his schedule light. In addition to running Glee and American Horror Story, planning to direct a feature-film adaptation of Larry Kramer’s AIDS drama The Normal Heart, and writing the all-star musical One Hit Wonders for pal Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon, and Cameron Diaz, he now will also run The New Normal, a new NBC comedy premiering this fall about a gay couple who decide they want to start a family. The show stars The Book of Mormon‘s Andrew Rannells and The Hangover‘s Justin Bartha alongside Ellen Barkin, who plays the bigoted, ultraconservative grandmother of their surrogate. Somehow, in the midst of all that, he found time to sit down with us for a Vulture Transcript, an in-depth conversation covering everything from the “hard road” of making Glee (which concludes tonight) and his plans for next season, to details of the next, sixties-set season of American Horror Story, to his response to those who think his shows blow up too fast.
Three TV shows and two movies … how do you stay focused with so many ongoing projects?
I don’t know how to answer that other than I just have a passion for all of them. They feed each other. I never get bored; I’m always excited. It just feels like a very circular gerbil wheel of creativity, to be quite honest. I started off as a journalist when I was young and I did not get paid unless I wrote three stories a day. So I was brought up with that mentality, that productivity was a good thing. And I do have a great support system and bosses who understand.
And will you be the showrunner for all three of your series?
Yes. I’m still the showrunner, but Brad Falchuk [co-creator and co-executive producer on Glee and American Horror Story] is working really closely with those writing staffs. And we’re bringing on people to Glee who have run other shows, so that’s very helpful. Ali Adler co-created The New Normal and has run and staffed many rooms before. That show also will have a very overexperienced staff that we’re bringing on.
Last year, FX president John Landgraf told me what he loved so much about American Horror Story was that you had planned it as an anthology, which would keep things fresh and new for you. Is it a fair assessment to say that you like the beginnings of things best?
Certainly I am aware people say that about me, which I always find interesting and I guess I understand it … well, yes and no. I would say for American Horror Story, I do like the freshness of that and I love that show because it’s a miniseries; it’s a beginning, middle, and end.
When you write stories 22 episodes a year, it’s a daunting task. Even though Glee is sometimes a hard road, I am very excited about writing a multi-year arc. For example, Rachel Berry, meeting her as you did, hopefully by the end of her journey she will be a star. That’s a very long, long period. That’s harder, because you don’t get instant satisfaction. But I know where she’ll end up; I know what the last scene will be. The New Normal is also a really great template because I know the last scene of the first season is the birth of that baby. It’s a five-year plan — first season is about getting ready for the baby, second season is about the baby, the third season is like, “We’re in our fucking mid-forties and we need to have another baby!” New Normal is almost like a weird hybrid of Glee and American Horror Story. It’s good for me to write to something in the long and the short term.
One of the things your critics say is that your shows have a supernova quality. They ignite and everyone’s talking about them, and at some point they inevitably fall back to earth. Then those critics fall all over themselves saying, “Yes! This is what we’ve said all along!”
I suppose I get what that is about because the things that I have done so far in my career seem to have started with a big burst of attention. Magazine covers, awards, nominations — all that stuff that you really can’t create or control. So I get that by comparison the third season of Glee was maybe not as sexy and shiny and red hot as the other seasons. People said the same thing about Nip/Tuck and the fourth season wound up being its highest rated in that show’s life of seven. I guess what I have learned is that people can say what they want to say, and I respect it. Everybody has a right to put people in a box or a niche because that’s their job. I used to do that [as a journalist]. I don’t think that’s true about me, but time will tell.
At the beginning of this season of Glee, you said no big tributes, no guest stars. But the truth is, you began doing both in the second half of the season. What happened there? Do you feel pulled in both directions?
I don’t feel that I’m pulled in those directions. And you know, the first season, which now everyone has put a halo on, did exactly that: We had guest stars, we had the Madonna tribute. .. I think the thing about the fan base is you can’t take anything too personal because it all comes from a place of passion. There are some people who love the characters. There are other groups of people who love the spectacle. When you do the spectacle, the people who love the characters get pissed. “Fuck them, why aren’t they doing a Brittany and Santana story instead of a Michael Jackson celebration?” Then when you do the opposite they’re like, “You know, where’s the tribute to Frank Sinatra? This is bullshit.” You just can’t win. So I think you try to do the best that you can, and I really do respect the fans, because I think it’s a young audience, and I think it’s a very Internet-savvy audience. We care about the show and we care about the characters and the tributes, but it’s a young, rollicking show by design. I get that sometimes people fall in and out of love with it in the course of two episodes.
It’s also hard when you do a show that no one thought would work — even the people who ran the network did not think it would work. Some of the critics thought it was gonna be five episodes then out. And I think that it’s a show that the fans made. They found it, they loved it, they bought the music, they turned it into a phenomenon, they bought the tickets for those concert tours, they created the ability to do multi-platforms, they had a really strong proprietary grasp on it. I think the critics did, too, and I think a lot of the bloggers did. So whenever you have something like that, and then you evolve and you grow and you try different things and you experiment and you risk, [they say] “We don’t like it, go back to what you used to do.” And then you say “Well, we are kind of doing what we used to do, but I understand how you would see it was different.”
I will say the story for season four gets back to the underdog status [for the characters] and that will appease people, maybe. Sometimes I feel that you can’t win. It’s just a volatile group of people that watch it, and for that, I like their passion. Anybody who’s ever done a show about youth has told me they went through this exact same thing.
What did you think of Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly saying next season would be a “creative renaissance” for the show at the network’s upfront?
I don’t think that Kevin was particularly a fan of what I was trying to do with the beginning of this season. We did an episode of all show tunes, we did several of them. There was the West Side Story thing that I loved, but I don’t think the audience did. Kevin wants a Glee that’s about Top 40, pop culture, big stars. So I know that he loved the end of this season, and I went and pitched him the next season and I think he loves it because it’s very pop-culture-based. We’re doing a great tribute right off the bat, another Britney Spears episode. Many of the characters will be starting over as underdogs, which is a good thing for the show. I really made an effort, talking to all the regulars about it.
What do you mean?
We had a meeting, and you know that we’ve become like a family, and I said to them anybody who wants to stay on the show will stay on the show. I asked all of them, “What do you want to do? What are you interested in doing?” That said, the show next year will have less characters than we’ve ever had and I think that’s a good thing. But I don’t think that you’ll see a show that suddenly you don’t recognize. A lot of people have been writing Dianna [Agron]’s off the show, Amber [Riley]’s off the show — they’re not off the show.
You know why they’re saying that about Amber, though. Amber tweeted that she had “closed a chapter” of her life.
I think she was talking about a bittersweet feeling of, “I’ll never be in the choir room with that exact group of people.” At least that’s what she told me. When I read that , I said, “I think people will misconstrue that.” She’s excited about where her character is going. They all are. I wanted to do the right thing by all of them. I think that was the problem in the media last year when people thought that I was getting rid of Lea [Michele], Cory [Monteith], and Chris [Colfer] because I couldn’t talk about the spinoff. “Oh, you’re getting rid of my beloved characters? Fuck you, I hate you, how dare you.”
One of the most powerful producers in TV, he has created dark, cutting-edge shows including Nip/Tuck and American Horror Story. They’re in stark contrast to his sugar-sweet global hit, Glee.
“I simply did Glee because I wanted to be happier in my personal life,” Murphy says.
Since its launch, however, Murphy has been challenging himself by imbuing Glee with some serious storylines. In the episode to screen on March 23, a character struggling with being bullied about his sexuality attempts suicide.
How much of a challenge was it to get Glee made?
It was very interesting because I had just done the world’s darkest, sickest drama, which was Nip/Tuck. And they (the network) paid me a development deal, thinking I was going to do more twisted sex dramas. You have those meetings where you walk in and they’re like, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I want to do a musical.’ And they kind of all laughed. They’re like, ‘No, what do you really want to do?’ And I was like, ‘No, that’s what I really want to do.’
You seem to have upped the gayness slightly. Was that deliberate?
I don’t look at it as upping the gayness. I look at it as sort of upping the outsider factor. Whenever somebody says that, I’m like, ‘You do know it’s a show about a show choir?’ I think our percentage of gays in the show is… I think the gays are under-represented on the show (he laughs).
I think what happened is Chris Colfer, who had no acting experience at all, was so true and so specific and so unique that I think he blew up (in popularity). Straight dudes in trucker hats were cheering him, which I thought was cool. And one of the storylines we had always planned on doing was people being punished for their sexuality or punished for being different, which is an epidemic in schools.
A lot of TV shows are doing musical episodes. Are they riding on Glee’s success?
I’m certain Glee has something to do with that. I get a lot of calls from people who are on other shows saying, ‘Can we come on your show? Because I want to sing and dance.’ So I have a feeling that those stars are whispering in their producers’ ears: ‘Let me show all that I have to offer.’
How do you select the music?
You have to get the rights for every song, which is interesting. When we started, no one had really seen it, but there were a couple of heavy hitters who liked that the show was about supporting the arts.
Rihanna and Beyonce were two people who come to mind and Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand, who said, ‘We don’t know what this is, but it sounds like it’s pro arts. So yes, go with God’. What we did very early is we had a pay scale where we would only pay so much.
Ryan Murphy Plans ‘One Hit Wonders’ With Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon, Cameron Diaz, Beyonce And Andy Samberg
In a seven-figure preemptive deal, Sony Pictures is collaborating with Ryan Murphy on One Hit Wonders, a musical comedy pitch that will be written as a star vehicle for Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon, Cameron Diaz, Beyonce and Andy Samberg.
Murphy is attached to direct, and he will write the script with his Glee cohorts Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan. Murphy will produce with Paltrow (who has practically become a Glee cast member) and the latter makes her debut as a producer on this film. Murphy hopes to direct it after he completes The Normal Heart.
Paltrow, Witherspoon and Diaz will play three singers who each scored a top hit song in the 1990s before watching their careers go down the drain. They decide to form a super group. Samberg and his Lonely Island cohorts will be involved in generating music for the film, I’m told. The project came out of a dinner Murphy had at the Soho House with Paltrow, Diaz and Witherspoon. They wanted to do something fun together and kicked around ideas until they settled on One Hit Wonders. Murphy, who made Eat Pray Love with Sony Pictures chief Amy Pascal, took the pitch to her. Pascal bought it 10 minutes in. They are working the deals right now. Murphy previously made a big deal with Sony for a follow-up picture he’ll direct with Julia Roberts starring. Sony’s Elizabeth Cantillon and Hannah Minghella will steer the project.
“Glee” mastermind Ryan Murphy is stepping away from full control of his hit Fox musical show and is taking a back seat to concentrate on writing and directing his latest project, “The New Normal,” according to sources.
Late last month NBC ordered a comedy pilot from Murphy and “Glee” co-executive producer A llison Adler for the half-hour show, which Murphy will direct. The project about a gay couple and a woman who becomes their surrogate stars Andrew Rannells from “The Book of Mormon.”
Dante Di Loreto is writing the “New Normal” script with Murphy and Adler. And Ellen Barkin is negotiating to join the cast.
Sources tell us Murphy is now pouring most of his attention into the show. One said, “Ryan is technically off ‘Glee’ and [co-creator] Brad Falchuck has taken over the day-to-day running. After some drama and discord with the cast last year, and with Ryan being very outspoken in the press, it was suggested by his aides that he relax a little.”
The source added, “He still has an immense influence over ‘Glee.’ But the truth is Ryan has lots of ideas, he was getting a little bored and is ready [for] new projects.”
Since “Glee” became a breakout hit for Fox, writer-producer Murphy has battled rumors of drama within the cast and issues reportedly caused by his outspoken, direct nature.
Last summer he blamed the media after back-pedaling over his claim that the characters played by Chris Colfer, Lea Michele and Cory Monteith would be leaving the show this year.
More recently Murphy has been spreading his wings into very different types of projects, including last season’s gritty and camp FX series “American Horror Story.”
A rep for Murphy said: “I’m not sure where you heard that, but it is totally false. Ryan is and will continue to be 100 percent involved with and committed to ‘Glee,’ as he is with ‘American Horror Story’ and as he will be with ‘The New Normal.’ ” Wait . . . isn’t that 300 percent?
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Ryan Murphy wants to take a second stab at a Madonna episode — with the Material Girl popping into Glee‘s McKinley High.
During a visit to Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, the Glee and American Horror Story co-creator spilled on who he’d like to next see guest star on the Fox musical.
“I want to do another Madonna episode but I want Madonna to be on it,” he says. “She says she would do it. I think that’s what I want to do.”
Glee paid tribute to the Super Bowl halftime performer in April 2010 with its “Power of Madonna” episode that featured eight tracks from the pop icon’s library including “Like a Virgin,” “Express Yourself,” “4 Minutes” and “Vogue,” which became Jane Lynch‘s first vocal performance on the series.
The episode drew 13 million viewers and a 5.3 rating in the prized adults 18-49 demographic.
In addition to spilling on Glee, Murphy also confirmed that SAG and Golden Globe winner Jessica Lange would indeed be returning to Season 2 of FX’s horror anthology drama American Horror Story, responding with a simple “yes” when asked if she would “make an appearance.”
The confirmation comes after Lange told reporters backstage at both January awards shows that she was mulling her future with the series, which will be completely rebooted with a new house, cast and location for its upcoming sophomore season. While the showrunner was mum on who else would be returning, he confirmed that Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott and Taissa Farmiga — the central Harmon family at the center of the first-year series — would not be among them.
“I’m in negotiations with four of the people who were on last year’s show, none of them were the Harmons,” he told Cohen.
Ryan Murphy was on Watch What Happens Live on Bravo on Monday night. Check out pictures below – and watch the episode online or catch a couple of clips below.
“Somehow I made them mesh,” the “Glee” creator said with a laugh during his appearance with OutQ’s Frank DeCaro on SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s OutQ “Iconography” program. Murphy is being honored all month long as OutQ’s featured “icon” and numerous plays of the full exclusive interview will air (for more info head here) throughout January.
The 46-year-old screenwriter and director also sounded off on a variety of LGBT-related topics, including one Hollywood executive’s resistance to his hit series, his first love and coming out to his Irish Catholic parents at age 15. “I didn’t come out to them, I was busted by them,” Murphy said.
Of his first boyfriend, he noted, “He drove a Corvette and had a fishing boat…we used to drive around and go to car washes while he would play ‘Sailing’ by Christopher Cross on 8-track, and I thought it was so glamorous.”
As for the smashing success of “Glee,” Murphy noted, “To this day, you don’t ever know why something is a success, it’s just alchemy.”
Check out clips from his interview below:
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
Cory: Hmm..I don’t know..ask [Lea]!
What turns you on?
Matt: Eye contact.
Jane: First cup of coffee of the day.
Cory: People who are passionate, inspired.
Chris: Controlled danger.
Ryan: [couldn’t make it out, sorry! feel free to check the audio post]
What turns you off?
Matt: I’ll steal Jane’s…fecal.
Jane: Contempt prior to investigation.
Cory: Ignorance or bigotry.
Chris: Um, I was going to say ‘ignorance,’ but I’ll say call times. Early morning call times.
What sound or noise do you love?
Jane: Live guitar.
Cory: Loud music.
Lea: I love when you go see a Broadway show and they click your ticket and it goes, di-ding!
Chris: Chimes in the wind.
Ryan: Dogs snoring.
What sound or noise do you hate?
Matt: The sound of rats.
Jane: My phone ringing.
Cory: People who talk too loud.
Lea: My alarm clock in the morning.
Ryan: The noise that trash trucks make.
What’s your favorite curse word?
Matt: Mutha-fucka! …Bitch, slut.
Lea: Fucking asshole.
Chris: I love when people have uncontrollable Tourette’s, you know, like – SHIT.
What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
Cory: Airline pilot.
Chris: A Disney Imagineer.
Ryan: A landscape architect.
What profession would you absolutely not like to attempt?
Matt: The dean of a school.
Jane: Commissioned telemarketing.
Lea: Well unless [Cory was] my pilot, I would say flight attendant.
Chris: Septic tank repairman.
If Heaven exists what would like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
Matt: “Matthew, your grandparents are right over there and they made you a Jack and ginger.”
Jane: “Good girl, woof!”
Cory: “Sorry I haven’t been around – there’s a good explanation.”
Lea: I would want my grandpa to say to me, “Ya dun good, kid.”
Chris: “Don’t listen to them – you get to come in too.”
Ryan: I can’t top that. “You did good. You did good.”