Appearing at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour on Thursday to discuss his new, high-intensity Fox procedural 9-1-1, Ryan Murphy also addressed the topic of the future of his empire in the wake of the Disney-Fox merger. And while he hasn’t made up his mind yet about what he will do — as many are waiting to see how the new company takes shape — the first word he used to describe the situation was “emotional.”
“I feel very emotional about it,” he told reporters in Pasadena. “It’s a very emotional thing for me. And I’ll tell you why: I started with Fox in 2003, and when I started with Fox, I was somebody who was told I was not employable, I was told I was somebody who was too specific and niche.”
The success of Nip/Tuck — and subsequently, Glee, American Horror Story, American Crime Story, and Feud — changed the game for him, creating a longtime home for the prolific producer, who has an overall deal with 20th Century Fox Television. “On paper, all of those things had one thing in common, which was they weren’t supposed to work,” he said. “And the one thing that they did have in common is I have been surrounded since 2003 at Fox with an incredible group of executives who have always allowed me to follow my interest and passions, and they believed in me… Three months ago, I thought I would literally be buried on the Fox lot. I had my mausoleum picked out and I was ready to just commit.”
The recent news that Disney would acquire Fox’s studio, caught Murphy off-guard, he admitted. “I was very not prepared for what happened,” he said.
When the deal materialized, he received phone calls from Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch and Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger. “I said, point blank, ‘The stuff that I do is not specifically Disney, and I’m interested in that, and I’m concerned about that.’ I’m like, ‘Do I have to put Mickey Mouse in American Horror Story?'” Murphy recalled. “And he was very sweet and transparent and kind, and he said, ‘No, the reason that Disney was interested in buying Fox is because they believed in the assets and they believed in the executives and the creators.’ And I think that Mr. Eisner has done a tremendous job of taking over communities and keeping those communities intact, those families intact, like Pixar, like Marvel.
“I’m interested to see what that community is going to look like before I make any decisions about where I’m going to go. But it is an interesting thing to feel suddenly your family could change or be separated, and I think that I’ve just decided to wait and sit back and talk to my friends, who are my bosses, and see what’s happening with them and then make a decision once we sort of know what’s happening.”
Murphy added that he was “surprised but hopeful” about the mega-merger, and that it was “an exciting time” to be a content creator. And he said he’s most interested in setting up shop wherever he can fulfill his company’s vision. “It’s not just me at this point,” he said. “I’ve created a group that is really trying to move the bar forward in terms of hiring women, hiring minorities, getting equal pay for women, and I want to continue that wherever I go. So wherever I go, I want to make sure that that community is taken care of.”
During the panel, Murphy also revealed the inspiration behind 9-1-1, which hit very close to home. When his 11-month-old son stopped breathing in the middle of the night, he called 911, and several “incredibly calm and nurturing” first-responders showed up at his house. “They really talked me off a ledge, and I was very struck by what great people they were how strong they were,” he said. “So from that moment, I really considered the inner lives of these people and how they’re forced to show up and be such a ballast to so many people.”
Murphy also said that the desire to create a case-of-the-week show like 9-1-1 — whose cast includes Connie Britton, Angela Bassett and Peter Krause — came from his breakthrough show. “I had missed doing procedural elements since Nip/Tuck, which I loved.” And he gravitated toward the idea of a heroic, uplifting show, even if the emergencies don’t always resolve happily. “We live in a really dark, cynical Trump-era time right now, and I think that for me, I was looking for something that was a relief from that. I was looking for something that was a blue sky show about people who got up every day and did good deeds and saved lives while battling their own demons… but putting other people before them and creating a community and a family.”
9-1-1 airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox.