Ryan Murphy, love him or hate him, is a creative genius. His career is on fire now, especially after the tremendous success of multiple Emmy-award winner The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Murphy, however, started writing, producing and directing many years before this or his other hit shows American Horror Story and Nip/Tuck.
His first show, Popular, which aired 17 years ago, is seen as a cult TV series. The quirky show, set in high school, took on issues like popularity (or lack thereof), sexuality and eating disorders. Sounds familiar? Many say Murphy’s Popular was the blueprint of what would be a breakout smash, Glee. The musical comedy show would become polarizing, as some viewers felt that the series went downhill after the first couple of seasons, while others -- such as myself -- stuck through it all (the good, the bad and the ugly) because we knew Glee was so much more than a show. It was a feeling! An emotion! Glee helped people, it inspired many, and -- as corny as it sounds -- it changed lives, especially of the many, many kids who watched the show and finally saw themselves not only represented but embraced.
Glee aired in 2009, and it was an instant phenomenon. The mostly unknown actors became stars overnight. They went on to record albums, tour the world and win awards. A year and a half after its last episode aired, Ryan Murphy talked to Entertainment Weekly as he looks back on his time in Glee.
“No one thought that was going to be anything, I think, other than a solid double, maybe at best. And we did it, and it was a magical experience because we shot the first 13 episodes in a bubble because nothing had aired. I returned from India and Bali with Julia, and I was like The Beatles. [He was filming Eat, Pray, Love when Glee first aired]. It was so crazy, like you could not go out with those kids.”
Murphy also notes that, while the show was a sensation, there were also negative aspects to it:
“It was the best time in my life and the worst time in my life. There was a lot of infighting. There was a lot of people sleeping together and breaking up. It was good training for being a parent, I’ll tell you that much. But I also made a mistake: We all got too personal. We loved it so much that we would all go out to dinner and we’d hang out and we were always together, so there was no delineation between who was the boss and who was the employee. And we were all so close that finally when something would happen, it would be so personal to me that I would literally hit the roof.”
One of the worst experiences that Ryan Murphy reminisces about was Cory Monteith’s substance addiction and eventual death. Murphy talks about trying to help Monteith get clean by getting him into rehab and how unbearably sad it was after the Glee actor died of an overdose July 13th, 2013. Murphy saw Monteith for the last time when the star visited him on the set of The Normal Heart with girlfriend and Glee co-star Lea Michele.
“We hugged, and the last thing he said was ‘I love you, man, and thank you for helping me get better.’ And then the next thing I knew he was dead. It was like losing a child,” Murphy remembers.
Lea Michele, who accompanied Murphy in this interview, adds:
“When I found out, Ryan was one of the first people I called. When Cory was alive, Ryan was very helpful in trying to get him well and healthy but, when that day did come, Ryan did take charge, and he helped me more than I can ever explain. He completely cared for me. He made sure I was okay every single day, whether it was coming over to his house and having dinner prepared for me, or making sure I was okay at work. He sat me down and said, ‘What do you want to do? Do you want to continue the show? Do you want it to end?’ I just said, ‘I just want to go back to work.’ His heart is bigger than I think he knows what to do with sometimes.”
Murphy admits that, after Cory Monteith’s untimely death, Glee was forever changed, “What started off as being such a great celebration of love and acceptance ultimately became about darkness and death.”
After everything he and the cast and crew of the show went through, Ryan Murphy still takes away so many positive things about the show; one of them is that it gave him the tools he needed to take on his next projects. “It was a great lesson in what not to do moving forward. And many of them are my good friends to this day.”