He’s been called a “ground-breaker” and a “change-maker.” He has played a major role in bringing to life some of the weirdest, wackiest and most beloved characters and reinvigorating television genres that had continually tanked. He helped make being a geek and a musical theatre fan cool again. He created characters that everyone can relate to and always champions the underdog. Of course I’m talking about the Fox’s Glee, FX’s American Horror Story and NBC’s The New Normal creator, Ryan Murphy, and Wednesday night he added to his Golden Globe, Emmy and AFI awards (among others) collecting the inaugural PaleyFest Icon Award from the Paley Center for Media.
The Icon Award is presented to an industry visionary to honour their career efforts and a prolific television writer such as Ryan Murphy, whose career achievements have been described by Paley Center CEO Pat Mitchell in the glowing terms that opened this article, certainly fits the bill.
At his request, he was introduced by his personal idol, Norman Lear. Following a standing ovation, Murphy launched into a no holds barred Q&A moderated by The Hollywood Reporter’s senior television reporter, Lacey Rose. Covering topics from his childhood career ambition (a pediatrician if you can believe it?? If only for the fact that it required maths and science, the tv landscape might look very different today) to his current obsessions, the event provided a wonderful opportunity to gain more insight into this TV icon’s life.
It was during his high school years that this Indiana boy fell in love with musicals. Following a successful run of roles in a number of productions, he set his sights on film school. It was only due to issues with funding (his parents’ income too great for a scholarship but not enough for the tuition) that he tried out journalism and headed to Indiana University, Bloomington. Following graduation, he had a successful career working for The Miami Herald, The Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News and Entertainment Weekly.
It was following an interview with Thelma & Louise screenwriter, Callie Khouri, that he was inspired to shift back to film and television. “I confided in her that I wanted to write a script and that started my journey.” That romantic comedy script, Why Can’t I Be Audrey Hepburn, was snapped up by Steven Spielberg and Murphy has never looked back, or in his own words, “I never did not work after that.”
With Glee well into its fourth season, The New Normal doing well in its premiere season and prep starting on the third season of American Horror Story, you would think that Murphy had enough on his plate. However, not only does he have a film adaptation of Larry Kramer’s Tony-winning play, The Normal Heart (starring Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, Julia Roberts and Mark Ruffalo) and a horror film with The Reader’s producer, Jason Blum, in the works, he recently became the proud father of baby, Logan, with his husband, David Miller. And he let slip that he is “just starting work on a new TV show” though he declined to provide any further information on that. There’s definitely no rest for the wicked, but given what he produces, we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Praised for his refusal to shy away from important topics, Murphy reflected on the change in attitudes on commercial television since he first started out with Popular (on The WB) in 1999. He stated that, “It’s wonderful how the world has changed; the things that I used to get notes on [such as the idea of a realistic portrayal of a loving, consensual gay relationship like that shown on Glee and The New Normal]… I don’t get those anymore.”
As usual, he remained tight-lipped about upcoming episodes of his series. While it’s been confirmed that the next season of American Horror Story will be historic in nature (rumours are running rife that it will be set in Salem and deal with witches), he did tease attendees with the fact that “they did some real screwed up stuff in the 1800s.” As the Salem witch trials occurred in the late 1600s, this casts doubt on those rumours. However, this is Ryan Murphy, so anything is possible.
He did confirm that he and Ali Adler are currently working on The New Normal’s season finale and that Goldie’s (Georgia King) birth has been heavily inspired by their own experiences of childbirth. With both of these shows involved in panel evenings later on in PaleyFest, there’s hope that we can pry a bit more information out of him then.
Glee’s Lea Michele brought the Q&A to a close in true Rachel Berry fashion asking Murphy what song he’s most connected to and is the most therapeutic. His answer was “Downtown” by Petula Clark sharing that his mum has a home video of him singing that song into a spoon. He stated that the song is “about going out and not being afraid and embracing joy and what’s around the corner.” To me, that certainly seems to also sum up what Murphy’s characters, television shows and films project to their viewers.
On hand to help Murphy celebrate were a number of the actors from the Murphy-family, including Glee’s Chris Colfer, Darren Criss, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, and Naya Rivera; American Horror Story’s Dylan McDermott, and Lily Rabe; and The New Normal’s Andrew Rannells, Justin Bantha and Bebe Wood. The evening finished with a “class photo” of more than 20 actors from Murphy’s productions.
A frequent visitor to the Center, Murphy has appeared with his various shows eight times. As part of this year’s PaleyFest he is returning for two more events over the next month: March 6 – The New Normal and March 15 - American Horror Story.