The news that prolific producer Ryan Murphy will be heading to Netflix under a new overall deal reportedly worth upwards of $300 million is a major blow for 21st Century Fox and Disney, but it might actually be a good thing for FX, the network that has arguably benefited the most from his talent and creativity in recent years.
Since first finding success as the creator of 2003's Nip/Tuck, Murphy has gone on to develop or executive produce multiple series for the basic cable network, including the long-running anthology series American Horror Story, which has been renewed through Season 9. Meanwhile, American Crime Story is currently airing its second season with a third in the works, and Feud has been renewed for a second season. This summer, FX will also debut Murphy's upcoming musical drama Pose.
Murphy's projects have been well received by critics and fans and have gone on to produce multiple Emmy Awards for FX, but in recent years, it's also often felt like FX was relying too much on the producer to be the backbone of its schedule. It's not to say this reliance was not merited — again, the quality of Murphy's body of work and the awards it has received speak for themselves — but Murphy's departure potentially opens up the door for new and distinct voices to find a home at FX too.
In 2003, after the success of The Shield gave the network the confidence to invest in more scripted originals, the network and its parent company Fox gave Murphy, with just two seasons of Popular under his belt, a home when he was told he was "not employable." That was well before the arrival of Peak TV and the network's move into more auteur-driven gambles. Since then FX has gone on to produce a number of shows that have benefited from the immense creative freedom it provides its creators, including the network's highest-rated program to date, Sons of Anarchy; Emmy Award winner Louie — stained though it may be now, it was also beloved by critics and brought FX prestige; the Cold War drama The Americans; and young comedies Better Things, Atlanta and Baskets.
FX currently offers adult-oriented programming options Disney doesn't have and has a proven track record of success. This means FX could potentially continue operating the way it has been for the last decade in the wake of the Disney acquisition. If that happens, it would mean Murphy's departure would give the network the opportunity to find his potential successor — or even better yet, successors.
It's true that the network has already had immense success on the comedy side of things, with Donald Glover (Atlanta) and Pamela Adlon (Better Things) each creating critically acclaimed programs with distinct identities and tones that are tied directly to their creators. Meanwhile, Noah Hawley has found success with the anthology series Fargo and the comic book drama Legion. Although Murphy will still be involved in the shows he currently produces for FX, imagine what the network could do for new voices or people on the verge once he departs and his future projects are being developed at Netflix — think someone like 2 Dope Queens' Phoebe Robinson before she went to HBO.
The network is at a major crossroads right now, and instead of panicking about what the network will do without Murphy, it's exciting to think about the possibilities this creates, specifically on the drama side of things. Still, Murphy's departure isn't a terribly surprising development. He is the second major producer to depart from their longtime home in the wake of the Disney/Fox deal — Shonda Rhimes signed a major overall deal with Netflix last year — and Murphy expressed his apprehension about his future at Fox in January.
"Three months ago, I thought I was going to be buried on the Fox lot. I had my mausoleum picked out," Murphy told reporters at the Television Critics Association winter press tour of his reaction to the Disney/Fox deal. But once the news came through, Murphy told Disney CEO Bob Iger that he was concerned about his future. "I said point-blank, the stuff that I do is not specifically Disney. ... I'm concerned about that, you know. Am I going to have to put Mickey Mouse in American Horror Story?" he said.
While it will be interesting to see just what shows and films Murphy produces under his new five-year deal with Netflix — he already had two projects in the works at the streaming service, the One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest prequel Ratched and the musical political series The Politician — FX should look at this as an opportunity to find and nurture a new class of creative voices. And hey, if it wants to also give the world a Justified spin-off, you won't hear me complaining.