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Early in his career, Murphy gained a reputation in the press as a control freak, all zingers and shade. He viewed this perception, not incorrectly, as homophobic, but he also knew that he’d helped create it. To journalists, he played the glamour monster: “Rarefied. Superficial. Interested in money and fame and clothes and not—I wouldn’t really let anybody into my heart.” When he was preparing to publicize “The People v. O. J. Simpson,” John Landgraf, of FX, told him to drop the snob act, and he has tried to do so, although his attempts to be down-to-earth can be funny. (“Now I could give a fuck—give me a black James Perse T-shirt and I’m good.”) He can’t explain his behavior. “I mean, why did I wear a white three-piece suit to a crime scene? Why? I was at that point more interested in façade. And controlling something. And then, I think, a lot changed when I had kids, and I was, like, ‘Fuck, I can’t control anything.’ ”

Murphy still savors aspects of his old reputation: a show is only as good as its villain, he told the “Pose” writers, who call him Elektra. He informed me that he’s a temperamental triple Scorpio—a warning that doubled as a brag. Murphy is a fan of the Real Housewives franchise, and is friendly with many of its stars. He so adores Norma Desmond, the aging diva of “Sunset Boulevard,” that he jokes about wanting to direct episodes while using only her lines. He has disdain for the screenwriter whose body is found floating in Desmond’s pool. “It’s like ‘Good, he deserved it.’ He lied to her. He should’ve told her the truth about that script. And he should’ve made the script good!”

Murphy is aware that his “relentless output” is sometimes viewed with suspicion. “The word ‘prolific’ is a dirty word, like ‘camp,’ ” he said. “Like, ‘Why can’t he be like David Chase and do one thing?’ ” Murphy is both sensitive to criticism and sensitive to the criticism that he’s sensitive to criticism. He tries to avoid reviews but knows the name of every TV critic. When the writer Miriam Bale wrote a feminist critique of “Feud,” then tweeted, “I want to hit Ryan Murphy over the head w/ a can of Bon Ami” (a “Mommie Dearest” reference), he obtained her e-mail address and asked her to give him a call. He was astounded by my suggestion that this was manipulative. He is convinced that if reviewers knew him personally, they’d be more sympathetic to his work. This is true, but it’s also crazy.

Murphy’s method of simultaneously overseeing multiple shows is unusual, no doubt, but energy begets energy. He is intensely organized, with a plan for each hour: if you just do one small thing after another, he told me, you can create something immaculate and immense. He doesn’t get colds, he said; every few weeks, he has an I.V. drip of vitamins. And though he brims with ideas—I once witnessed him unfurling a truly nutty subplot, for “The Politician,” involving Mossad agents—writing is not his existential passion, as it is for some TV creators. He’s no keyboard introvert; he’s a ringmaster who loves spreadsheets. He’s a self-saboteur, too, devising the perfect marketing campaign, then alienating critics with a blast of hauteur. “I have a hubris problem,” he told me, with humility. “I keep thinking that I’m past it, but I’m not past it.”

Murphy is also a collector, with an eye for the timeliest idea, the best story to option. Many of his shows originate as a spec script or as some other source material. (Murphy owned the rights to the memoir “Orange Is the New Black” before Jenji Kohan did, if you want to imagine an alternative history of television.) “Glee” grew out of a script by Ian Brennan; “Feud” began as a screenplay by Jaffe Cohen and Michael Zam. These scripts then get their DNA radically altered and replicated in Murphy’s lab, retooled with his themes and his knack for idiosyncratic casting. He generally directs the first episode or two. He’s deft with titles. During an editing meeting for “Pose,” he issued two dozen notes: cut half the dialogue, insert a wider street shot. The show’s executive producer, Alexis Martin Woodall, told him that the editor would need three days to make the changes. “No,” Murphy said. Woodall explained that the editor’s newborn baby was in the hospital. Murphy’s eyes widened. He granted the extension, then rattled off exacting, well-intentioned advice about antibiotics and the flu season. “Listen to Dr. Murphy! That baby needs to live through March!” he announced, leaving everyone slightly flabbergasted.

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“Wait—we’re fighting, right?”

American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson,” which aired in 2016, was the first Murphy production to receive a perfectly sexy blend of high ratings, critical raves, Emmys, and intellectual prestige. He had been hunting for material after HBO declined to pick up “Open,” a sexually graphic pilot about polyamory; his agent Joe Cohen alerted him to a miniseries about the Simpson case, which Fox had been developing with the screenwriting team of Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, until an executive change left the project in limbo. Murphy’s name got the show an all-star cast and a big budget. “He was lending us his machine,” Karaszewski told me, although he noted that he and Alexander had written the first two scripts and outlined the next four. Nina Jacobson, one of the show’s producers, described a deeper involvement. Murphy, she said, had agitated for emotional directness; among other things, he’d zeroed in on a few lines of dialogue about Johnnie Cochran being racially profiled by cops, and turned it into a full scene.

Murphy can be touchy about the acclaim that the series received, describing its success, dismissively, in ad-speak: “It’s that rare four-quadrant show. You feel like you’re eating Doritos, but the vitamins are hitting.” He added, “The only part of ‘O.J.’ that was truly me was Marcia Clark. But it was an experiment in constraint, and that was the side of me that critics love the most—when it’s the side of me that I love the least.”

His multitasking benefits greatly from the freedoms of cable and streaming: he has zero nostalgia for the twenty-two-episode network grind of a show like “Glee,” in which “halfway through Episode 15 you had nothing left to say, the actors were sick, the writers were sick, and it was fucking oatmeal until the end.” He favors eight or ten episodes, often with a small writers’ room, as with “Pose.” He writes scripts for some shows, whereas for others he gives notes; on a few projects, like his HBO adaptation of Larry Kramer’s play “The Normal Heart,” he’s very hands-on. “We left blood on the dance floor,” Murphy said, affectionately, of his three-year collaboration with Kramer. “Versace” had one writer, Tom Rob Smith. But Murphy provided close directorial, design, and casting oversight, and he had a strong commitment to the show’s themes, particularly the contrast between Versace and Cunanan, two gay men craving success, but only one willing to work for it.

Murphy does have a bad habit of sloughing off ownership when it’s convenient. I asked him about a complaint against “Glee” by the musician Jonathan Coulton, whose acoustic reinterpretation of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” was imitated, without credit, on the series. (Coulton is a friend of mine.) Murphy said that he was barely involved in “Glee” by then, and had left it up to Fox’s legal department. He did say that he would handle the matter differently now: “There’s a difference between what’s legal and what’s ethical.”

Even as Murphy has matured, he can still be a tempestuous figure. A black-and-white thinker, he cuts ties with people when he feels betrayed: in 2015, he ended his professional relationship with one of his oldest friends, Dante Di Loreto, who was the president of Ryan Murphy Television. At the same time, Murphy has established a profound intimacy with his closest colleagues, often by strengthening relationships that began as “two scorpions in a hatbox”—his grandmother Myrtle’s expression. It’s his own House of Abundance.

Falchuk and Murphy call themselves brothers. Murphy describes Landgraf, his “Nip/Tuck” antagonist, as his surrogate father. And Landgraf clearly views Murphy in a paternal light, to the point that if what he said about him were printed it would sound sappy. (Landgraf may be the one TV executive who swells with pride at how effectively his protégé resisted his notes.) Similarly, Murphy was once quoted as saying that his dear friend Dana Walden—the head of Fox Television Group, and the godmother of Murphy’s children—had “properly mothered” him. “I was very offended!” she said, laughing. “I’m twenty-eight days older than him.”

Unlike most TV writers, Murphy remains unambiguously fascinated by celebrity, savoring events like the Met Ball, where he was thrilled to be manhandled by a tipsy Madonna. His writer Tim Minear joked that Murphy’s “What’s the scoop?” line is an undermining conversational cue: “You just had dinner with Lady Gaga—that’s the scoop!” But Murphy also simply loves actors, and roots for their success. Murphy called Jonathan Groff after the début of his new series for Netflix, “Mindhunter,” and got weepy, thrilled that Groff, who is openly gay, had been cast in a role that had “electric and real” heterosexual sex scenes. Sarah Paulson is grateful for the “rare sunshine” that Murphy has cast on her career, giving her a wild range of roles, from conjoined twins to Marcia Clark. Paulson has fond memories of filming one of the most daring scenes in “Asylum”: a brutal conversion-therapy sequence in which her character, a lesbian, masturbated while receiving electric shocks. “It just doesn’t occur to me to say no to him,” she said. “It’s a superpower of his.”

On occasion, Murphy fantasized to me about taking a break: perhaps he would take a two-month vacation, or delegate more to others. But, in January, on the day he received the Norman Lear Achievement Award, we had brunch at Barneys in Beverly Hills—at his regular table, in the center of the room—and he acknowledged that it would likely never happen. After having children, he said, “I thought I would become much less driven and calmer, stay at home and make a strudel. No, I became even more insane and driven by a mission.” It reminded him of something he’d once read about a man who couldn’t wait to turn thirty, when he’d be less interested in sex, and then, as he aged, kept changing the number—to forty, then fifty. “My sexual passions are not that big,” Murphy said. “But that idea of waiting for something to die down, or at least go from a rolling boil to a simmer, is something I’ve looked forward to my whole life, and it’s never happened. And I’ve just decided I’ll just go to my grave with that thing.”

His anger hadn’t fully dissolved, either. “The thing that I get the most angry about is being misunderstood,” he told me. “And about control—the deep wounds. Everything else—eh. But I have a very volcanic, quick temper. So sometimes I’ll just be as calm as a placid lake for six weeks and, suddenly, out of nowhere, there’s this roar that comes out, and it is like dropping a nuclear bomb. And I’m aware when I’m doing it, and people are”—he widened his eyes, pulled back—“plastered up against the wall. And when it’s done I feel like I’ve released something, and I’m, like, ‘Let’s go back to it!’ And they’re, like, ‘What?’ But I’ve had that since I was a child. The eruptions were much more frequent. I’m not proud of it, but it’s also—that’s who I am.”

He’d had a conflict that week with a colleague. “I’m, like, ‘I’m not mad at you at all.’ It’s like that scene in ‘Mommie Dearest’ where Joan Crawford yells at the maid, ‘I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the dirt.’ ” It disturbed him, however, that he intimidated people. “I think that they confuse my genetic coldness, being a Danish person, for scrutinizing them in some way.” The higher he’s climbed, the more aware he’s become of how easy it is to abuse power. He told me that he’s determined to raise others up, particularly those who felt as excluded as he had. He worried, sometimes, that critics were right about his early work: perhaps it had lacked “soulfulness,” and he’d gone in too hard for shock value. When I praised the filmic technique of a rape scene in “Asylum,” he told me that he would never make something like that now; becoming a father had changed his tolerance for violence. “I just don’t want to put that in the world,” he said.

At the same time, he knew that he wouldn’t be where he was without having fought for what he wanted. “I’m very aware that if you take out your bad mood on people who have no equity you’re kind of an asshole,” he said. “But I also don’t think you become successful, particularly in Hollywood, without having the ability to yell, loudly, ‘This is not what I want!’ ”

Falchuk said that it had been part of his “life journey” to learn from Murphy’s more assertive style of masculinity—his ability to push past resistance in order to achieve his vision. Falchuk was curious to see how the Netflix deal might change Murphy. “We still have conversations about ‘feuds’ and ‘fatwas,’ as he calls them, with people. I’m, like, ‘Is there a place for forgiveness? Are we at war with Eastasia?’ But he needs an enemy to fuel him.” Falchuk doesn’t mind if his name isn’t on everyone’s lips. “If I was someone who did want that, I wouldn’t be working with Ryan—there’s no room for two of him there,” he said. “I have a great life. I go home every day happy, happy, happy.” Falchuk wishes only for Murphy to feel the same way: “I would love if he could enjoy his success more.”

Bart Brown, Murphy’s old friend, told me charming stories about Murphy at his least guarded—riffing on Melanie songs, taking road trips up the California coast. Murphy’s self-confidence helped Brown fight his own self-loathing, Brown said. After years of working in Hollywood, Brown, a bohemian with a beard, has become an “intuitive”—an emotional healer. “We’re surprisingly unkind to one another,” he said of the gay men of L.A. “In this generation, I think we are all a little damaged.” He finds it particularly wonderful to see Murphy take joy in having a family, something that once seemed like an impossible dream for gay men. “David grounds him,” he said. “Which is a good thing, because his career is not slowing down.”

Source : https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/05/14/how-ryan-murphy-became-the-most-powerful-man-in-tv

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