The Producers Guild of America honored Ryan Murphy with its Norman Lear Achievement Award in Television at this year’s PGA Awards. Accepting from his friend and frequent collaborator Gwyneth Paltrow, Murphy hat-tipped the award’s namesake.
“That’s what I want to do – I want to touch people,” said Murphy, recalling the time when he would watch Lear’s All in the Family. “I want to move the cultural dial.”
Murphy said that when he was starting out in this business in the late ’90s, it wasn’t easy for him. “I was told not to follow my instinct to be someone else,” he said. “I was too weird. I was too odd. I was too unusual – my mannerisms and my voice were mocked by executives in notes meetings — which I thought was weird, because I am capable of speaking very deeply.”
He continued to say that he wanted to see himself and his experiences in America on television. “Oprah Winfrey speaks very movingly about watching the Academy Awards and seeing herself and what she could possibly be when Sidney Poitier won an Oscar in 1964, and I never had that experience.
“I never saw triumphant, or, at the very least, complicated gay people or gay characters on television or in movies as a child and as a teenager,” he said.
Murphy shared an experience during his “dark days” when he got a phone call out of the blue from Lear. The TV legend told him that he watched his work and said, “keep doing what you are doing. I see you. Don’t give up.”
He didn’t give up, all because of Lear. “I would say to people that I never changed, it’s the business around me that did,” he said.
Championing minorities, the LGBTQ community, and women has been a mainstay in Murphy’s work. He talks about the importance of championing ideas and sentiments for those without cultural power, but stresses how the importance of women in his life and how they have supported him.
“I honestly believe that my career was carved by women, strong women,” he said. “Women were always my champions for 20 years now.”
Murphy has numerous accolades under his belt, including four Emmys: for best limited series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (for which he also has a PGA kudo), outstanding short-form nonfiction/reality series for an Inside Look behind that show, outstanding TV movie for The Normal Heart (for which he also counts a 2014 PGA Stanley Kramer award), and comedy directing for Glee. Murphy’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime is currently on FX.
Previous honorees include James L. Brooks, Shonda Rhimes, Mark Gordon, Chuck Lorre, J.J. Abrams, Dick Wolf, Jerry Bruckheimer, Lorne Michaels, David L. Wolper, Aaron Spelling, Carsey/Werner/Mandabach, Steven Bochco, David E. Kelley, Mark Burnett and Lear himself.