TV uber-producer Ryan Murphy believes that that when it comes to normal, everything’s relative – literally.
Murphy – who’s risen to the loftiest ranks of television producers by delivering a string of small-screen hits in “Nip/Tuck,” “Glee” and “American Horror Story” – is delivering his first comedy in the traditional sitcom format, NBC’s “The New Normal.” The show centers around urbane gay couple Bryan and David (Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha) who bring their surrogate - struggling waitress Goldie (Georgia King) - and her eight-year-old daughter Shania (Bebe Wood), into their family. Also along for the ride but far less willingly is Godie’s opinionated, tolerance-challenged grandmother Jane (Ellen Barkin).
And while Muprhy knows some people are going to find the show just as controversial as his previous series have often proven, he hopes they’ll recognize that at it’s heart, it’s really as normal as modern life gets.
On how the colorful – and frequently controversial characters – were conceived:
“The pitch was talking about the characters and the different kinds of families and where are we today, and we certainly pitched the gay couple, but we also talked about what it was like to be a single mother with a young daughter, what is it like to be a woman in your 50s who is completely starting over and dating again. So we talked about the whole spectrum of the characters, and I don't think it ever came up about “Are people ready for it or not?’ I think that we fell in love with the characters…I think all the characters are lovable, and I think that everybody has people in their family who are representative, hopefully, in all of these characters. I certainly think the most controversial character will probably be Ellen Barkin's character, but I remember Thanksgivings when I was growing up when my grandmother would actually say these jaw‑dropping things very similar to that, and then we would call her out on it, so it felt very familiar to me, and I think hopefully familiar to other people.”
On working to evoke the socially minded ‘70s-era comedies created by Norman Lear, including “All In the Family,” “Maude” and “Good Times”:
“When I was growing up, I remember one of the most memorable times that I would have with my parents was watching ‘All in the Family’ and being young and hearing people talk that way and then having a discussion about 'Was that good? Was that bad? What was that?’ So I like that about the show. I think people will talk about some things that the characters say, obviously, but I think that's a good thing…I have not ever met Mr. Lear. Obviously I think he is a true genius, and I think he has had such an impact on me when I was growing up, beyond even discussion. He sent me a very sweet note when ‘Glee’ premiered. I guess he liked the progressiveness of the show or something, and I would love to meet him just to say thank you, because I think he made so many wonderful programs.”
On the autobiographical elements of the show providing both authenticity and outrageousness, including a scene in which Bryan first informs David he wants a baby because he wants to buy stylish baby clothes:
“The show is loosely based on my life and came about because my partner and I have been having conversations about surrogacy and meeting with people and talking about it. So I guess if you saw that scene, one would think that [Bryan just wanted a baby as an accessory], but I think if you watched the show and you watched the scripts, we're really writing hopefully a great depth to this couple, and it's not easy to be a gay couple having a child. We deal with those issues. For me, obviously as somebody who very much does have that dream, I don't feel that way. I would never feel that way.
On the boycott of the show from the conservative organization One Million Moms even before the show aired, due to its non-traditional families:
“I have obviously been through this before. I wasn't surprised when I read that. I think every person in a group has a right to protest something and not like something. I always find it to be interesting when people take that position before they've seen it. I also think if they watched the show, I actually think they would love it because for the first time they're represented. Ellen Barkin's character is a member of Moms – That's true. Writing that in the script. I think the show is funny, but I also think the show in many ways is about tolerance, and I think it's about a discussion of tolerance, and I think their points of view are delivered with sensitivity and a certain amount of veracity by Ms. Barkin, so I think they actually, if they watched it, they would like it...[Barkin’s character] will talk about those issues that the Million Moms talk about. We haven't written all the episodes yet, but I'm sure she will protest people and events, and I think that's great fodder for the Bryan and David characters and Goldie character to talk to her about that.”
On casting “The Book of Mormon” stage star Andrew Rannells and “The Hangover’s” Justin Bartha as the show’s gay couple:
“I had seen ‘The Book of Mormon’ twice, and I just was like, ‘I want to work with Andrew Rannels – I don't know how, I don't know when.’ And we started coming up with this idea, to be quite blunt, I heard that Andrew wanted to do television, and I knew that he would be snatched up like that! So even before pilot season began, I had a meeting with him, as I think several people in town did. And I said, "We're working on this – What do you think?" So it really came from me being wildly attracted to his talent, and the same for Justin Bartha. I was a huge fan of his, and we had a meeting, and I loved him. I just think that both actors are capable of really great, grand comedy and can turn it on a dime and are exceptional dramatic actors.
On the fact that he’s currently executive producing three series on three different networks:
“It's a privilege to be able to have an idea and go into a group of executives and say ‘I really want to write about this’ and’ I really am interested in this,’ and for them to say yes and give you the money and make it. In the case of ‘Glee,’ there are two other creators – Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, who are fantastic – who are really stepping up on that show in a major way, and I'm thrilled about the fourth season. I love the direction the show is going, so that's great. In the case of ‘American Horror Story,’ we started writing that season in January this year, so by the time we started shooting, we had half of the scripts done, and it's a cable show so the order is shorter – it's 13 this year. So that has been a tremendous luxury that we got an early pickup from [FX] and we started the discussions about ‘American Horror Story’ five episodes after the first season aired. And then in ‘The New Normal,’ Ali Adler, who I worked with on ‘Glee,’ is just absolutely brilliant and really runs that ship…The three shows, the writing is housed in the same building at Paramount, so it's easy to just sort of go back and forth between the rooms, and sometimes it's tiring, and I work on the weekends. But I love it. I believe in the three shows, and I love the three shows, and they're so very different that going from room to room, the energy is different and that kind of is a re-invigorating experience.”