Ryan Murphy: Television's queer kingmaker

Years ago, when Ryan Murphy was an entertainment journalist for The Times, he confronted an enduring Hollywood riddle: “How can you get a mainstream audience to identify with a jerk?”

“I think this rule that successful movies have to feature completely likable characters is too general,” an executive told him. “Listen, there are no rules.”

Murphy listened, all right. Since creating cult classic “Popular” in 1999, he has become one of the most prolific producers in Hollywood, largely by turning narcissists (“Nip/Tuck”), outcasts (“Glee”) and murderers (“American Horror Story”) into must-see TV. His courtship with the infamous has landed him critical acclaim, particularly for his reexamination of real-life figures from the O.J. Simpson trial, President Clinton’s impeachment, the assassination of fashion designer Gianni Versace and the rivalry between Golden Age actors Joan Crawford and Bette Davis; more recently, it’s mired him in controversy, with a Jeffrey Dahmer-centered season of “Monster” angering the families of the serial killer’s victims.

Along the way, he’s also emerged as a central figure in the streaming wars. In 2018, Netflix lured him away from Fox with a historic $300-million development deal, but his output there (including “The Politician,” “Hollywood,” “Ratched” and “The Prom”) has met with a decidedly mixed reception. Indeed, with his stint at the streamer coming to an end, he’s reportedly returning to his former home, now part of Disney.

Perhaps Murphy’s influence has been felt most potently, though, in the realm of LGBTQ+ representation. He has built a stable of queer stars, including Sarah Paulson and Matt Bomer, while also shepherding to the screen pioneering queer plays such as “The Normal Heart” and “The Boys in the Band.” Most notably, “Pose,” set in New York City’s ballroom community in the 1980s and early ’90s, made history for assembling the largest cast of transgender actors ever to appear as regulars on a scripted TV series — and brought Billy Porter a landmark Emmy win.

As a result, Indianapolis native Murphy, 59, who has three sons with his husband, photographer David Miller, has become synonymous with projects that put traditionally marginalized characters at the center of the story.

“I made them the leads instead of the sidekicks,” he’s said, “because that is what I did in my own life.”

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