The new NBC comedy series The New Normal, premiering on September 11th, shows that, these days, families can come in all forms. Bryan (Andrew Rannells) and David (Justin Bartha) are a successful Los Angeles couple in a committed, loving partnership, who have everything except the baby that they desire. Meanwhile, waitress and single mother Goldie (Georgia King) is a young woman with a checkered past, who decides to become the guys’ surrogate.
While at the NBC portion of the TCAPress Tour, show creator/executive producer Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story) talked about how he thinks audiences will respond to the edginess of the series, how it feels to be the first boycotted show of the season, how appreciative he is of shows like Modern Family and Will & Grace that paved the way for this one to be possible, and how he’s going to juggle three shows now and make sure there’s enough of him to go around. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Question: Was there any kind of a discussion with NBC about whether or not it is time for a show like this, or did they just go, “Yeah, this is the new normal”?
RYAN MURPHY: We never spoke of it that way. It was a really great pitch. I’ve known Jennifer [Salke] for so long. Before I was a writer, I did garden design, and I designed Jennifer’s garden, many years ago. I’ve known her for a really long time. So the pitch was not really about that. We talked about the characters and different kinds of families and where are we today. 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 50’s who is completely starting over and dating again and having to go online to date again. We talked about the whole spectrum of the characters, but I don’t think it ever came up about whether people are ready for it or not.
How do you think audiences will respond to the un-PC-ness of this show? Do you think they will find it amusing, or will they run from it?
MURPHY: I don’t know. I think all the characters are lovable, and I think that everybody has people in their family who are hopefully representative 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 it will feel familiar to other people. The other thing I’ll say about it is that, 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?” I like that about the show. I think people will talk about some things that the characters say, but I think that’s a good thing.
How does it feel to be the first show of this season to be boycotted?
MURPHY: 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 guess you’re talking about the Million Moms group. I also think that, if they watched the show, they would actually love it because, for the first time, they’re represented. Ellen Barkin is a member of Moms. That’s true. We’re writing that in the script. I think the show is funny, but I also think the show is about tolerance, in many ways, and it’s about a discussion of tolerance. I think their points of view are delivered with sensitivity and a certain amount of veracity by Ms. Barkin, so I think, if they watched it, they would like it.
When you were working as a garden designer, did you know that you ultimately wanted to do TV?
MURPHY: I was a journalist and was writing, at the time. Jennifer was just starting out in the business, when I was doing that. But yeah, it was a dream. I was living with Bill Condon, at the time, who is a great writer and director, and I was in a relationship with him, for many years. So, I would see him and we would talk about his work, and it was always a dream. I was doing other things, and finally I just decided, right around when I was 28, that, “Okay, I’m going to try this,” because I had always grown up loving it so much.
When was the first time you had ever heard of NeNe Leakes? Did you watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta, at all?
MURPHY: We were in the writers’ room of Glee, to be quite honest, and we were writing a nemesis for Jane Lynch. I said, “You know what we need? We need somebody like this.” I had seen NeNe on Housewives, and I had also seen her take down Star Jones on Celebrity Apprentice. We had watched that scene, and I said, “Wow, I don’t even know if NeNe wants to act, but we should talk to her and offer her this part,” which was Roz, and she did it so well. We just offered it to her, and she very graciously accepted. The thing about NeNe is that it had always been a dream of hers to act, and she had acted. She showed up on Glee, for her first take with a very long Ian Brennan monologue, and got a round of applause from Jane Lynch and the crew, right off the bat. I thought, “Wow, she’s really good!” So, when Ali [Adler] and I were coming up with this show, we talked about wanting to include NeNe because I think she’s just hilarious. I actually just shot a segment of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, which was a dream come true. I love her, and I think she’s very talented.
You’re dealing with exaggerated comedy, but also real emotional issues, with this family and all the people coming together. Was there any concern, in the writing, that it was going to come across, in the pilot, likeBryanwants a baby because it would basically be a really adorable accessory?
MURPHY: The show is loosely based on my life, and the show came about because my partner and I have been having conversations about surrogacy. If you watch the show, we’re hopefully really writing a great depth to this couple. It’s not easy to be a gay couple having a child, and 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. So, my answer would be no.
Did the huge popularity of Cam & Mitchell on Modern Family make this comedy possible?
MURPHY: Well, I’m personally just so appreciative to Modern Family and also to Will & Grace because those shows are huge successes and so many people watched those shows and changed their views. I think that they’re wonderful programs, and I think that hopefully we will stand on their shoulders in success, if we’re so lucky. But, I’m full of deep admiration for those actors and those characters.
With three shows on the air now, how do you balance all of this work? Are you concerned about making sure that there’s enough of you to go around?
MURPHY: Yeah. 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 to make it. In the case of Glee, there are two other creators — Brad [Falchuk] and Ian [Brennan], who are fantastic and 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 of 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 episodes, this year. It has been a tremendous luxury that we got an early pickup from John [Landgraf] because we started the discussions about American Horror Story, after five episodes of the first season aired.
And then, with The New Normal, Ali, who I worked with on Glee, is just absolutely brilliant and really runs that ship. We all work on weekends. With all three shows, the writing is housed in the same building at Paramount, so it’s easy to just go back and forth between the rooms. Sometimes it’s tiring, but I really love it. I believe in the three shows, and I love the three shows. They’re so very different that, going from room to room, the energy is different and that is a re-invigorating experience.