For Ryan Murphy, one of the biggest selling points in joining Netflix was not having to care about Nielsen ratings anymore. So it’s a bit ironic that the uber-producer made the decision to leave the world of traditional, linear TV just as he’s enjoying one of the biggest broadcast hits of his career.
Murphy’s new Fox series “9-1-1” ends its freshman run on Wednesday as a bona fide primetime winner. In Live+7 data, which includes seven days’ worth of DVR and VOD usage, “9-1-1” averages a 3.0 rating — improving its time slot average by 50 percent from a year ago — and 10.5 million viewers, up 81 percent from 2017. It’s currently the No. 1 show among adults 18-49 on Wednesdays, and is Fox’s biggest new show since “Empire.”
“I was surprised,” Murphy admitted to IndieWire. “I’ve tried it before and it’s been hard. Network television is hard. [“9-1-1″] was successful so quickly, and it was very consistent… Network television, in particular, has a very volatile schedule. Some weeks you’re on, and some weeks you’re off and you’re pre-empted for live events. And this year we were preempted for the Olympics. But what I was very buoyed by is we came back strong after being gone for two weeks.”
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Frequent Murphy collaborators Brad Falchuk and Tim Minear are executive producers on “9-1-1,” which follows heroic first responders as they go from the emergency call, right up until the injured person enters the hospital doors. Angela Bassett, Peter Krause, Connie Britton, Oliver Stark, Kenneth Choi and Rockmund Dunbar star in the series, which has already been renewed for Season 2. Looking ahead to next year, Murphy said the show would grow the 911 operator world and add more characters to that arena.
“I think people like the mix of the show, this extreme in-your-face stories and the idea that were showing up to these calls with these very heroic first responders, and once they drop them off at the hospital their job is done,” he said. “Mixing that with the earnestness and the emotional emergencies that are going on with the first responders and their personal lives is an unusual mix of sincere and extreme. It’s a show that has a serialized element to a certain degree but you can jump in every week and catch up.”
Murphy credited Fox Entertainment Group chairman Dana Walden with convincing him to do a procedural for the network, inspired by his earlier success with FX’s “Nip/Tuck.”
“It started with Dana and I taking about what’s not on the air, and I had this idea about first responders that mixed blue-sky heroism with weird fascinoma cases like I did on ‘Nip/Tuck,'” he said. Murphy said the show wasn’t originally supposed to premiere until September 2018, but Walden fast tracked it to premiere this winter.
“It was greenlit quickly, it was cast quickly, we shot it, and we were still shooting the finale last week,” Murphy said. “We had a very accelerated post-production schedule, but I think Dana was right. Putting it on the air right after New Year turned out to be a really good kick in the pants for everyone.”
Murphy has grand plans for the future of “9-1-1,” which he believes could have a “big life.”
“It could have spinoffs, it could have limitless tentacles coming from it,” Murphy said. “We’re just starting to talk about what does that look like. I’m thrilled for everybody, because everybody jumped into it loving the pilot. You can feel the energy of that on the screen. It’s selling so well internationally, it’s just a show that one of those lightning-in-a-bottle experiences that caught on and kept growing.”
But Murphy said “9-1-1” will air for at least one more season before he considers a spinoff. “I do think this is one show because of its success could have a spinoff in a different city, or follow Aisha Hines’ character (“Hen Wilson”) or [Oliver Stark’s character] (“Buck Buckley”), there are a lot of different ideas.”
Meanwhile, despite the success of the new drama, Murphy said he’s pleased to be leaving daily ratings behind as he moves his overall deal to Netflix.
“The one thing that I hated with that process that remains something that I don’t like is the weekly ratings report card,” he said. “I don’t think that it’s ever accurate and I feel like people watch the shows in Live+3, Live+7, they watch it on their iPhones, they watch it digitally. The fact that ‘9-1-1’ has been remarkably consistent and the dial has moved upward has been a great experience. But to be honest, I won’t miss that anymore. I’m glad that that part of my life is over. And it really is just about the creativity.”
In January, Murphy told reporters that he hadn’t planned on ever leaving Walden and 20th Century Fox TV. But with the state of the studio in flux, as Disney is in the process of its acquisition, which gave the producer the opportunity to look at other homes. Murphy said he was intrigued by the possibility of doing all sorts of different things at Netflix.
“Documentaries, movies, variety specials, not just showrunning,” he said. Plus, the off-network runs of most of his current and past shows are on Netflix. “I have a lot of things already on Netflix — ‘Glee,’ ‘American Horror Story,’ ‘American Crime Story’ are already there.”
Murphy plans to remain involved in his current 20th shows, and because Netflix benefits on the backend, he said it’s not a problem with the streamer. Beyond “Pose,” which premieres in summer, his final two 20th series are both for Netflix: First, “The Politician,” which begins shooting in July, and then “Ratched” (with Sarah Paulson), which will go into production next winter after Paulson finishes her season of “Horror Story.”
“I have a world there and a family there and I’m going to stay there as long as I can,” Murphy said of 20th. “My office for the next year is there because ‘Ratched’ and ‘The Politician’ are both Fox shows. And all my production facilities are on the Fox lot. So I’ll be there for a while. I’m hopeful in July we can come up with a really good deal for me to continue working with those shows. I want to. I’m invested in them, I believe in them. Particularly something like ‘9-1-1,’ that came out of the gate as an experiment and worked. I want to keep that going and growing, I think it can. So I’m optimistic.”
As for “American Crime Story,” as “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” ends its run, Murphy said his team is still determining which edition will go next: A take on Hurricane Katrina (based on the book “Five Days at Memorial,” by Sheri Fink) or the President Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal (based on Jeffrey Toobin’s “A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President”).
“We have a lot of things we’re considering for the next season,” he said. “Our goal with that show has been, we’re not putting it on the air until it’s good and it’s ready. Netflix bought that show for the run of its life, so that’s also I love that, I can continue that show where it’s in my Netflix world. But I don’t know which season we’ll be doing next. We’ll be figuring that out relatively soon.”