Ryan Murphy is the television writer/director/producer responsible for some of the best shows of the past 20 years, including Glee and American Horror Story.
Born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1965, Ryan Murphy was a typical Irish Catholic-raised choir boy. Of course being gay in those days was a well-guarded secret so his boyfriends were kept a secret.
He majored in Journalism at Indiana University Bloomington and got hired at such publications as The L.A. Times, The Miami Herald and Entertainment Weekly.
He got into screenwriting in the late nineties and Steven Spielberg bought his script for Why Can’t I Be Audrey Hepburn? It was never produced but it boosted Murphy’s confidence that he could do more than just write the news.
Murphy’s television career began with the teen comedy Popular, co-created with Gina Matthews for The WB. It ran for two seasons, but Murphy really started getting notice when he created the FX medical drama Nip/Tuck (2003-10), which was informed by his journalism researching plastic surgery in Beverly Hills.
Unlike most medical dramas, Nip/Tuck utilized serial storytelling as opposed to episodic storytelling. Also unlike most medical dramas, this show was very graphic, but the medical cases were 100% based on fact, and the show earned Murphy his first Emmy nomination for directing. It lasted six seasons, and the reality show Dr. 90210 on E! was even inspired by it.
Murphy’s biggest mainstream success came when he co-created the FOX series Glee (2009-15) with Ian Brennan and Nip/Tuck writer Brad Falchuk. Brennan and Murphy’s days as choir boys informed this show.
The series about a high school glee club often tackled issues you didn’t see on television every day. It was known for covering many famous songs, and the soundtrack was one of the most popular aspects of the show. Glee would earn Murphy his first Primetime Emmy for directing the pilot.
Like Nip/Tuck, Glee also inspired a reality show, but one that Murphy executive-produced for Oxygen called The Glee Project (2011) in which people competed for a chance to have a mini-arc on the actual Glee.
Another series Murphy co-created with Falchuk was the FX anthology series American Horror Story. Each season revolves around a different theme and it oftentimes utilizes the same cast in different roles. The first season was subtitled Murder House (2011), and this was followed by Asylum (2012), Coven (2013), Freak Show (2014), Hotel (2015), Roanoke (2016), and the politically-themed Cult (2017).
But the American Horror Story series has led to another anthology series from Murphy and Falchuk called American Crime Story, the first season of which was one of the most riveting and entertaining television productions I’ve ever seen.
The People v. O.J. Simpson is by far Murphy and his writing team’s magnum opus. The story of the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson was interesting enough in real life, but this show brought it to new life in fantastic ways. Every character had dimension, and the story was shown from the POV of the lawyers, the judge, and even the jury, and suddenly that old case from the nineties seemed new again.
Murphy now has the seemingly impossible job of topping this season with American crime stories about Hurricane Katrina and the assassination of Gianni Versace.
Murphy has also done directing for feature films, most famously for the 2010 film adaptation of Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts, which was a commercial success, but his greatest success with critics was the incredible HBO TV movie The Normal Heart (2014), which was the first thing I watched that made me pay attention to Ryan Murphy as a new potential favorite.
Based on the play that focused on the rise of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City in the eighties, the story was about Ned Weeks, the gay founder of an HIV advocacy group who worked hard to make noise about the epidemic. The film starred Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Julia Roberts, Alfred Molina and Jim Parsons, and was a masterpiece on every level.
Murphy’s contributions, as well as his fight against AIDS in his personal life, has earned him the Award For Inspiration from the Foundation for AIDS Research. This is clearly an important issue for Murphy, which may explain why he is currently working on a sequel.
Aside from his amazing writing, the thing I appreciate most about Ryan Murphy is his dedication to bringing something new and different to television, which he has consistently done throughout his career, even with lesser-known shows like NBC’s short-lived The New Normal (2012) about a gay couple who decides to have a child through a surrogate mother.
Murphy has even made a conscious effort to employ a diverse cast and crew for his shows. It’s a magical thing in an industry that’s typically narrow-minded to see that men and women, young and old, no matter their race, gender, or sexual orientation will always have a voice in Ryan Murphy’s world, and for that he can count me as one of his biggest fans.