TV Article

Murphy's Law

''Nip/Tuck'' chief tells why he reupped with FX. Busy with a new film career, Ryan Murphy explains to EW how he was swayed to do season three

(As told to Lynette Rice)

When I originally signed on in 2002, I only had a contract to do two years of Nip/Tuck. I really wanted to do movies, and during the second year I was doing the show and writing the script of Running With Scissors — the film starring Annette Bening and Gwyneth Paltrow, which I also directed — at the same time. Two years felt like a natural run for me because that's all I was used to. I had done Popular on The WB for two years. But then the final episode of Nip/Tuck's season 2 aired and it got the biggest ratings in FX's history, with 5.2 million viewers. I felt such affection from the fans.

People always asked me, was it a reality show? It got lumped together with horrible shows like The Swan. When I first pitched the idea [to Warner Bros. TV] in 2001, the execs thought it was a sitcom. It's Nip & Tuck — he's Nipperson, he's Tuckerson, and they're wacky plastic surgeons! I was so freaked-out. Just to distance myself from the execs wanting me to do it as a sitcom, I got rid of the ampersand and put in the slash between Nip and Tuck.

There was a day last season when Julian McMahon and Dylan Walsh walked in my office unannounced and said, ''You have to stay on the show.'' I love those guys and I did feel an obligation to stay with them — I just didn't think we could make the new deal work. It wasn't just about wanting to make more money for myself. I also wanted more money for the show. I was at a point where I was begging for extra chicken fat for the surgery scenes. A network show costs in the $2 million-plus range and we were at $1.4 million. But it ended up well. I don't think I signed the deal until last December — two months after the second-season finale. The budget's at $1.9 million now, and the network agreed to let me do movies at the same time.

Even if I had left, I wasn't going to walk away and wash my hands of the show. We started the Carver story, so obviously it would be a part of season 3. I was the only one who knew who the Carver was — now all the writers know. We signed a blood oath. The weird thing is, the Carver was a throwaway episode that immediately saw a spike in the ratings. People liked the gore and scariness of it. It's an interesting character because what he's doing is really no different than what plastic surgeons are doing. They are both carving and butchering people. Every time that character went on, from episode 7 to the end, our ratings grew.

This whole season will be about Carver madness. It will be somebody we know. It's always a horrible cheat when it's someone like a neighbor who you met once, and they're the killer. I like how this show has not done the obvious. The Carver can be a him or a her. The last scene of the final episode this season is when we'll learn who the Carver is.

I never feel like anything we do on this show spirals out of control. I heard that about the story involving Famke Janssen, who played Matt's transgender lover, Ava, last season. I never thought that story over-the-top, I thought it was a delight. Her character was designed for a year, but she was such a hit she's coming back this season. When anybody said that to me about her story being over-the-top, I reminded them how the pilot featured our two guys wrapping the villain in ham and throwing him into the Everglades, where he was eaten by alligators. Dylan Walsh always jokes about how we jumped the shark in the pilot, so it's very liberating.

People don't realize our medical cases are 100 percent based on fact. So when you watch the first episode of season 3 and see a 650-pound woman who is literally stuck to her couch, I'll show you the newspaper clipping that proves it actually happened. I don't make that s--- up. We have episodes that don't have any surgeries but people never remember that. They always remember the unadulterated madness. That's by design. This is a modern-day horror story with plastic surgeons as dueling Dr. Frankensteins.

If the shock value gets you into the show, welcome. But I hope the legacy of the show will be the storytelling. I always thought the show was about the love triangle of Sean, Christian, and Julia and how they keep redefining that triangle. The other thing I thought would be interesting was to do a love story about two men who are heterosexual. How many more obstacles can our guys endure and still remain friends? Sometimes we write things and say, They're never gonna get over this, we have to split them up. But we find a way of making it work.

Originally posted Sep 09, 2005 Published in issue #840 Sep 16, 2005 Order article reprints