What’s a comedy? What’s a drama? The debate over which category to submit shows continues, as 30-minute dramas and hour-long comedies defy the Television Academy’s rules. Now, megaproducer Ryan Murphy has weighed in, telling IndieWire that he thinks it should ultimately depend on the intent of the series creator.
“I’ve always believed that a show should be whatever the creator says it was created for,” he said. “If they say it’s a comedy or drama, that’s up to them. ‘Glee’ had that, we always went as a comedy because of the musical element. It was seen as light.”
When in doubt, the Television Academy usually does side with producer intent. But it has added more guidelines in recent years to avoid networks and studios attempting to game the system by placing shows in less competitive categories. That led to a rule clarification in 2015 that half-hour shows be deemed “comedies” and hour-long shows compete as dramas.
Producers must then petition to be given an exception. “Jane the Virgin” was allowed to move to comedy, just as past hour-long shows like “Glee,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Ally McBeal” had gone. But “Orange is the New Black” was required to stay in drama, much to the chagrin of producer Jenji Kohan.
Beyond that, Murphy said he’s happy with the Emmy process, which has been generally good to him. Early on, as “American Horror Story” evolved into an anthology, with yearly changes in story and characters, he was able to submit that show in the Outstanding Limited Series category. The same, now, is true for “American Crime Story” and “Feud.”
“I always feel very seen and taken care of, so I have no complaints,” said Murphy, who has won four Emmys (including two for “The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story) and has been nominated for countless more. “I can’t name one thing I would change because I’ve obviously won and I’ve lost.
“I think the categories are great and I would leave it as it is, because at this point with awards, what are you going to do then? Have best animal performance? I feel like it’s just fine,” he said.
Murphy has several shows competing for this year’s awards, including some that will face off against each other for nominations — in particular, “American Horror Story: Cult” and “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” in limited series. His new first-responders hit “9-1-1” is eligible in the drama categories, but broadcast procedurals generally don’t do as well at the awards show.
“I never try and manipulate anything like that,” he said. Murphy is particularly bullish on “Versace,” including “the actors in that, and the crafts people. I think it looked incredible and sounded incredible. At this point for me I just root for my people, I never know where the wind will blow.”
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Next up for Murphy is his FX drama “Pose,” which just held its world premiere on Thursday in New York. The show, which is shooting its final two episodes now, is a dance musical that centers on late 1980s New York life and society. It’s most notable for making history by featuring five transgender women in the lead.
“It’s very emotional,” Murphy said. “It reminds me of when I did ‘Glee.’ It’s very different from ‘Glee,’ but it’s that feeling of you’re watching underdogs win and you’re invested in their much more quiet triumphs. The main thing for me is we cast five trans women as the leads. Many of who had no experience.
“I think when you see those people have one of their first times at the table getting to be a part of that, I’m very moved by them and I think people will be very moved by them,” he said. “They persevered and survived against all odds and I think that’s an amazing thing. It’s a very young cast; it’s a new cast so I’m excited about people seeing it. It’s an extraordinary thing to put out into the world at this point and time.”
IndieWire spoke to Murphy at the Fox network upfront on Monday, where he had just revealed that Jennifer Love Hewitt had been added to the cast of “9-1-1,” marking her first series regular role in several years.
“I’m old friends with her,” Murphy said. “At my first dinner party where I met her, I had to keep excusing myself to go to the bathroom because I had food poisoning. And she never found out, so I was very thrilled about that. “
Murphy said Hewitt had taken some time off to be a young mother, but was now ready to get back into the business full time. “I think people love her and have great affection for her,” he said. “And it’s kind of full circle for her, since she started her career on a Fox show [‘Party of Five’] 20 years ago.”
Hewitt fills the void left by Connie Britton, who signed on to “9-1-1” for just a year. But the door is still open for Britton to periodically drop by.
“I hope she comes back, she loves the show, we’re optimistic,” Murphy said. “I think [Hewitt] now brings a great new audience that you want in a show like this. I could see every year adding new people coming to the show — which is a thing I’ve learned from the anthological shows that I’ve done. People like a refresh, they like someone new, a new addition, a new story, a new vibe.”
Work continues on the next installment of “American Crime Story,” about Hurricane Katrina, but Murphy doesn’t rule out eventually setting another edition of the series inside the President Clinton impeachment. Murphy had previously said he didn’t want to pursue that story without the blessing and involvement of Monica Lewinsky, but he’s also looking for the right story, and the proper writer for it.
“‘American Crime Story’ is always about social relevance, so you have to find someone who gets what that is in that story,” he said. “And obviously at this point with that show I’m sort of godfathering it and producing it but not writing it. I’m just looking for someone to have a great take. There’s so much content now, that so many people who might otherwise be available are now off doing their own show.”
Murphy surprised some by showing up on stage at the Fox upfront, even though he recently sealed a rich deal with Netflix. Nonetheless, he’s actually straddling both his old 20th Century Fox TV stomping grounds and his new deal, as Murphy’s final two projects for 20th, “Ratched” and “The Politician” are for Netflix.
Murphy also retained his offices on the Fox lot, so he’s still in close proximity to Fox TV Group chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman, even though they’re not paying his deal anymore,
“I thought it would be much more strange than it is,” he said. “I feel like nothing has changed at all. Because Fox is a co-owner of the first things I’m doing at Netflix. So I have the same office, the same people. Nothing feels different to me. I’m obviously [at the Fox upfront] supporting the company and Dana and Gary who work so hard. It feels limitless and exciting and everyone gets along great. Everybody roots for each other and we all socialize together. So nothing feels different yet.”
Asked whether he has time to watch much TV these days, Murphy noted he has two toddlers — whose diet mostly consists right now of “Paw Patrol” and anything with animals. When will they get to watch Murphy’s primetime fare? Perhaps never.
“The thought of my kids watching my cable series freaks me out,” he said. “They’ll ask me dark questions about what did Daddy do and where did that idea come from. But they’re sweet about it. I like protecting them from the big, bad world.”