Ryan Murphy on Glee: People Don't Just Break Out Into Song; "There Are Rules"
Has Ryan Murphy gone soft on us? The writer-director, best known for quirky, dark dramas like the teen satire Popular and the plastic-surgery freakfest Nip/Tuck, wanted to do something different, something with heart. The result is Glee, a genre-busting, one-hour comedy about a Spanish teacher (Matthew Morrison) and his quest to rebuild a suburban high school glee club. The show stars a mix of Broadway vets (Spring Awakening's Lea Michele; Kristin Chenoweth and Victor Garber will recur), some familiar TV faces (Jayma Mays, Stephen Tobolosky), and Jane Lynch, who steals scenes as a ball-busting cheerleading coach. Fox is previewing the pilot episode in a plum, post-American Idol slot Tuesday (9 pm/ET) before it debuts in the fall. Murphy told TVGuide.com what inspired the edgy songfest, what "rules" give the show structure, and, finally, what we can expect from Nip/Tuck's final season.
TVGuide.com: How did you come up with this idea? Was it inspired at all by the success of American Idol or High School Musical?
Ryan Murphy: No, it wasn't because of that. I have never seen High School Musical. I know the conceit of it, and I kind of know what it's about. I admire it, and I think that what they've done is fantastic, but we were never trying to do anything like that. I was trying to do something that was much more like a musical version of movies that I loved where high school is a metaphor. High school is not actually what it's about, if that makes any sense.
TVGuide.com: Would you call this show a drama? A comedy? A musical?
Murphy: We have a lot of dramatic plot lines, but this show is a one-hour comedy. But it's very much in the Alexander Payne world as opposed to something, you know — this is not a show you'd find on the CW. I think it's a little bit more adult than that.
TVGuide.com: Coming off the racy Nip/Tuck, did you change your approach at all to create a network show?
Murphy: I've always been hesitant to do a network show. I've never had much luck with it just because I think my voice is pretty specific and a little bit subversive. But I also want to do a show that appeals to everybody. I've done a cable show and that to me was a big challenge. I've done eight years of dark, really adult stuff, and I was like, okay, I want to try something different. I want to do a show that has a bigger heart and is kinder. But make no mistake, it still has an edge.
TVGuide.com: How did you feel about doing a musical show on TV? It's a genre that has had mixed success.
Murphy: I wanted to do a postmodern musical. Fox was not interested in, and neither was I, doing a show where people suddenly burst into song. I said, "Look, if they're going to sing, there are going to be three rules: It will be done where they're on stage rehearsing or performing, in the rehearsal room, or it will be a fantasy that is rooted on the stage." I think that's one of the reasons why Chicago, for instance, was such a brilliant movie: It had rules. I was very inspired by American Idol because I think the key is to do songs that people know and interpret them in a different and unusual way.
TVGuide.com: In the pilot, you used the Journey song Don't Stop Believin'. Was there was ever any hesitation since it is so closely associated with the series finale of The Sopranos?
Murphy: To me, [that song] transcends everything. It's always been an anthem. I think it's the No. 1 most popular song in the history of iTunes or something like that. And I just liked the idea of 16-year-old kids interpreting that song.
TVGuide.com: How are you picking the songs for the show? Is there a magic formula at all?
Murphy: My goal is to really try and give the audience something for everybody. We have hip-hop; we have R&B; we have a top 40; we have country...
TVGuide.com: Can we expect a Glee soundtrack?
Murphy: Yes. We do between five and eight songs per episode. There's going to be a series of albums where I think we'll probably put out an album every couple of months because we will have so much material. Also, we're going to have all of the songs available that night, immediately, on iTunes, so if you like something, you can go buy it.
TVGuide.com: Are there TV shows that you've admired in the past that you thought did a good job of depicting life in high school?
Murphy: Well, you know, I always loved Freaks & Geeks and My So-Called Life just because I think that they had a lot of heart, and I've never done a show like that before. [Popular] was really a satire. It was really cynical and mean-spirited and dark.
TVGuide.com: Were you ever involved in musical theater in high school?
Murphy: Yes, I was. I grew up in Indiana, but what I remember about that time is that when you get the lead in something or you're performing, you feel like the world is suddenly available to you. You have so much optimism about what you can become, and it doesn't even have to be about being a performer. It's just about a belief in yourself. I remember that feeling, and it was very important to me.
TVGuide.com: In the episodes that follow the pilot, are there any new cast members or changes to the basic structure of the show?
Murphy: After the pilot, there are six kids who are in glee club, but you need 12 to go to regionals and sectionals. So the first five episodes are about the teachers' hunt to find those kids from all different walks of life in the school. Kristin Chenoweth's character is introduced in the fourth or fifth episode, and she hopefully will be recurring, because we loved her and she was so great.
TVGuide.com: Looking at Nip/Tuck's final season, what's in store for Christian, given the news he got at the end of the last episode?
Murphy: I will tell you that he goes through a horrifying divorce. I think Christian and Liz are so good together so we kind of have a whole season based on their breakup and how they remain friends.
TVGuide.com: And Sean?
Murphy: The next season is really about money, about how the recession really affects the plastic-surgery industry, because I think people are more worried about their car payments and mortgage payments than about paying for lipo or boob jobs, so Sean's preoccupation is about keeping his family and business afloat in troubling times.
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