BEVERLY HILLS — Ryan Murphy figures he's gotten good about policing himself.
"I seem to have a good relationship with all the executives at the networks," Murphy says. "They tell me if they don't like what they hear (from me). I know more now than I did when I started about policing myself."
He's had a lot of practice in that arena, too.
The former Knoxville News Sentinel reporter created "nip/tuck," a sexually charged drama about plastic surgeons; "Popular," a teen comedy that dealt with social issues; and "American Horror Story," a twisted horror tale. Even "Glee," the charming high school musical, has flirted with controversy as it tackled teen drinking, pregnancy and using actors with mental and physical challenges.
And as of this fall, Murphy is back in the frying pan with his NBC comedy "The New Normal," about a same-sex couple (Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha) employing a surrogate mother to have their child. The "Normal" cast includes Ellen Barkin as an outspoken bigot, and reality star Nene Leakes as a brassy secretary.
"Normal" premieres 9:30 p.m. Tuesday on WBIR, Channel 10.
When he pitched the idea of the series to NBC, he says it was more than just saying he wanted to do a comedy about a wacky gay couple.
"I wrote about things I am interested in," Murphy says of "Normal."
"I want to see people like me on TV. I think most people who write TV shows write about people they want to see."
Murphy says he and his partner have contemplated children, and the germ of the idea for "Normal" grew from aspects of that. Murphy sees a lot of himself in Rannells' flighty character in particular.
"When I was growing up ... 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 it," says Murphy, who grew up in Indiana as the son of a newspaper circulation director. " 'Was that good? Was that bad? What was that?' So I like that about the show.
"People will talk about some things that the characters say, obviously, but I think that's a good thing."
Before it even airs, "Normal" has been a hot-button issue. The NBC affiliate in Salt Lake City refuses to air the program. The Million Mothers group also is protesting the show.
As for the Million Mothers, Murphy says, "I think every person in a group has a right to sort of protest something and not like something. I always find it to be interesting when people take that position before they've seen it.
"If they watched the show, I actually think they would love it because for the first time they're represented."
Barkin's character will be revealed as being a member of the Million Mothers group.
"I certainly think the most controversial character will probably be Ellen Barkin's character," he says of the character who hates gays and people of color.
"But, you know, I remember Thanksgivings when I was growing up when my grandmother would actually say these jaw-dropping things very similar to (Barkin's character), and then we would call her out on it.
"So it felt very familiar to me, and I think it feels hopefully familiar to other people."
Terry Morrow may be reached at 865-342-6445 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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