Ryan Murphy Brings ‘Provocative’ Series to HBO

Ryan Murphy, who is currently represented on television with three scripted shows (American Horror Story, Glee, and The New Normal), is added an HBO series to his roster. Open, which is described as "a modern, provocative exploration of human sexuality and relationships," has gotten a pilot order from the network. Collaborating with Dexter co-executive producer Lauren Gussis. This will be his second project with the cable network, as his adaptation of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart is also being produced by HBO

Deadline gives some details about the show:

Open revolves around five lead characters, including a married couple of thirtysomethings, the husband’s male co-worker and a woman in her 40s who is a yoga professional. Murphy said he had been bouncing ideas about a show exploring human relationships when Dante Di Loreto of his company, Ryan Murphy Prods, heard about Gussis working on a similar project and put them together. “She was great fresh voice and energy,” Murphy said about combining his efforts with Gussis. The two worked on the script in December, marking the first time Murphy had written a project on spec instead of selling a pitch. As for the spec landing at HBO: “I’m thrilled about it,” Murphy said, noting his great relationship with Lombardo through Normal Heart and calling HBO a perfect home for Open. “They have great projects, and this is really an adult show that is very frank in its depiction of sex.” But that depiction never feels gratuitous, 20th TV chairman Newman adds. “It is a very honest exploration of relationships and intimacy, and the sex feels organic to the subject matter,” he said.

"That depiction never feels gratuitious." Considering Murphy is responsible for a serial killer who targets plastic surgeons on Nip/Tuck, a ghost rapist on American Horror Story, and all of that Autotuning on Glee, I’m already giving this project a side-eye. But hey, at least HBO’s relaxed standards means there will be more naked people. Silver lining!

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Ryan Murphy Hints at Third Season of ‘American Horror Story’

I gave up on American Horror Story: Asylum around the time that Anne Frank showed up, because when Anne Frank shows up to the party, it’s time for me to leave. I think that’s a pretty fair mantra! But, since I loved the first season of the show, and since the next season will have a completely new cast and story line, I figured there’s still a chance that it’s worth watching. And luckily, Jessica Lange will return to her new BFF Ryan Murphy’s crazy-ass fever nightmare. 

Murphy is slated to sit down with the show’s writers to come up with a third season story line next week, but he’s already dropped some hints about what’s up there in that brain of his:

Season three is “really about female power,” Murphy said, adding that the enigmatic figure next year (i.e. Rubber Man and Bloody Face) will also be female. So far, Lange, Sarah Paulson, and Evan Peters have all signed to return. “I got Jessica to do it because I did everything she asked … and I also told her she will have hair, makeup, and the best designer gowns ever made. She’s going to play a real glamour cat sort of lady.” Murphy said he’s currently reaching out to several actors who Lange asked to work with, but wouldn’t say who they are. “She’s sort of become an uncredited producer now,” he said.

A glamour cat? Like Grizabella?! I’m sold! Also, I’m crossing my fingers pretty hard that Lange wants to reunite with her Crimes of the Heart sisters, Diane Keaton and Sissy Spacek. Hell, Ryan Murphy should just hire me to cast this show already. I’ll pretend that I don’t hate The New Normal, I promise! 

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NPR Claims It’s All Sunshine and Roses Now That There Are Gay Men on TV

Any article that starts with, "The pop culture gay flavor of the minute? White gay dads," will likely have me digging my fingernails into my palms by the time I scroll down to the bottom of the page. Ta da! Congrats, NPR, because you managed to incite my first internet-based rage of 2013!

In an article accompanying a story that ran this morning on the air, NPR writer Neda Ulaby discovers that our television sets are blowin’ up with friendly, proud, and out gay men who are showing the world how it can get better, or something. Yes, on Modern Family and The New Normal, there are white dudes who have sex with each other (but not onscreen, because ewwwww) and procreating with the help of, I dunno, white women and Asian adoption agencies. Breaking news, gang!

It’s a mini-boomlet, says real-life white gay dad and sociology professor Joshua Gamson. Not too long ago, he says, pop culture once mainly defined gay men as promiscuous and deviant, rather than monogamous and devoted to their families.

"It does seem like a strong counterstereotype of how gay men have been portrayed over the past, whatever, 50 years," he said.

A boomlet! Cute! The article also mentions, obviously, Will & Grace, whose creator, Max Mutchnik, also created the similarly gay-themed (and immediately cancelled) Partners. And, obviously, there’s the king of Gay TV, Ryan Murphy, who is responsible for Glee (gay teenagers!), The New Normal (gays who love NeNe Leakes!), and American Horror Story (murdered lesbians! a male ghost in a pleather body suit who rapes and kills a gay couple!). Sure, there’s also Max on Happy Endings, the lovably sarcastic and dumpy gay guy, but even his romantic prospects are hardly ever the focus of an episode (I say that regretfully, because I do love that show).

To give some balance to this piece, After Ellen‘s Trish Bendix gives some solid points about the representation of queer women on television: 

"Well, actually, there have been a lot of women of color, which has been great," said Trish Bendix, who runs a website called After Ellen that tracks lesbian representation on television. She rattled off at least a half-dozen shows with nonwhite queer female characters: White CollarThe Good WifeUnderemployedPretty Little LiarsGrey’s AnatomyGlee.

But too often, says Bendix, these are small roles played by exoticized, slinky femmes. "Like, ‘the other’ is always going to be the other," she observed ruefully. "So we’ll just pile all that otherness on the one person."

It’s true, though. After we’re done compiling lists of all the gay men on TV, can we narrow down which ones are not white? Because, let’s be honest, the modern definition of "gay" seems to be "white man who lives in the city and shops with all of his disposable income." And on top of that, do any of those men have personalities that don’t fit into a masculine-feminine binary? Because, you see, all gay men are either super queeny or straight acting, if The New Normal is to be believed. Or, perhaps even worse, any gay man who does not seem to be floating on Cloud Nine is, in turn, doomed, or perhaps evil, as one can see from any queer character on American Horror Story or Thomas from Downton Abbey, who is brought up at the end of the NPR article as a "character [who] once might have been seen as a homophobic stereotype [but now] blends into an ever-expanding universe." (Lemme know if that universe ever expands to include some queers who aren’t trying to screw over everyone they encounter.)

The point is this: we’ve come a long way in terms of the way gay men are represented on television. But we’ve only made it half way. Should we have congratulated the people behind Soap for creating the first regular gay character on a sitcom, or do you think we’re allowed to acknowledge the borderline homophobic humor surrounding the man’s (played by a straight guy, naturally) decision to "become straight" by pursuing a sex-change? Looking back on it, that was kind of screwed up, huh?

Hopefully in another twenty years or so we’ll have progressed to a place where we’re not just patting ourselves on the back for putting gay men on TV and saying, "Good work, everyone! Now, to collect the checks!" Because there’s a larger world of queer people out there who are still not represented, and its clear that there’s little to no interest in those who don’t fit into the whitewashed gay world that’s being packaged for middle America, just slightly and cheekily enough not to rock any boats. 

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Getting to Know ‘The New Normal’ Star Jayson Blair

Starring in one of the most progressive and interesting new sitcoms on television, The New Normal star Jayson Blair has caught everyone’s eye. Moving from modeling to acting, the 28-year-old actor has been working his way up the Hollywood ladder from commercials, guest spots on shows like CSI: New York, supporting television roles, and independent film. Perhaps best known for his role as Max Owens on The Hard Times of RJ Berger, Blair’s character Clay Clemmons on The New Normal isn’t the aggressive bully you’d come to love/hate him as. From the mind of the indefatigable Ryan Murphy, The New Normal is pushing boundaries and making a statement, but with a voice that speaks to all people with bias.

It’s a show about the desire to protect your family and fight for those you love. Following a gay couple (played by Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannells) who decide to have a child, the two become connected with a struggling young woman, Goldie, and her daughter. Goldie becomes their surrogate, and eventually, a part of their family—but no one comes without baggage. Goldie’s young grandmother (played by Ellen Barkin) is a tough as nails conservative Republican who has decent intentions but is usually on the wrong side of the argument, known for her politically incorrect outbursts and staunch ideals. And then there’s Blair’s character, Clay, Goldie’s philandering ex-husband. “Clay’s a lover,” says Blair, “he may have some issues when it comes to monogamy, but you’ll see he really does care about his family.” We met up with Blair to see his road to Hollywood, working with Ellen Barkin, and what the show means to an audience.

So how did you get into acting?
I started off modeling in Los Angeles and taking acting classes during that. I quit modeling pretty shortly after moving out there. I really enjoy acting and think it’s much more individual in sense of what you can do and what you can have people perceive you as, whereas with modeling you’re advertising something.Three years in I started to get really serious about my acting and that’s when it all started to change. I started doing commercials and then in 2006 I got my first guest star on CSI: New York and then in 2009 I got The Hard Times of RJ Berger. So I was a regular on that for two seasons and then The New Normal now; I’ve just been working my butt off. 

Were you working a lot when you got out there?
Oh, I struggled. I was living off the dollar menu at McDonalds and oatmeal for like my first three years. I was a server the whole time and after a few years I started working at really good restaurants so I was doing pretty okay. But it was definitely a serious struggle for a while. I was like, you know, you’re always a day away from your life changing. The crazy thing about this business is that you can not work for two years, go on audition, and the next day you get a phone call and your life’s completely different. RJ Berger was my first bigger role.

Did that open up a lot of doors for you?
It did!  And also it was the first scripted thing that MTV had really done and paved the way for a lot of their other shows. At first people didn’t really take it seriously, but after it came out people saw it and thought it was really funny. But now that The New Normal happened, it’s really helped me out in terms of getting auditions for films.

Do you have a preference of where you’d like to continue working: television or film?
I feel like so many great roles are on television nowadays with so many amazing characters that you’re so interested to see what happens week after week. I think the best stories are in TV right now; with the exception of some films, TV is definitely where it’s at. If you used to do TV you could never really cross over and if you did film, no way you’d do television but now everything’s really interesting and the writers are great.

Are there any other TV shows you’d love to be on?
Homeland. I would love to be on Homeland. Or if they need an American on Downton Abbey, I’m all for it. Game of Thrones would be awesome. Something super involved, really intense drama, I would love to play something fun like that.

And you’ve completed a film recently?
I’ve done a few independents. It’s called Detention of the Dead, it’s like Shaun of the Dead meets The Breakfast Club. It’s five random delinquents in detention a la The Breakfast Club. I play the asshole jock guy. We just had so much fun together. We shot in 25 days and it was really cool.

So do you really enjoy the challenge of comedy?
I do love comedy, I think it’s harder in certain ways than drama and more fun. But then again, I love dark dramas. I would love to do some challenging roles.

Are there any directors you’d really love to work with?
I would love to work with Ben Affleck. He was always a good actor and then he started making these films and it’s just unbelievable. He can tell a story really well but also the way he directs himself; he’s become a much better actor also and he’s so subtle. But of course, all the greats like Scorsese, Almodovar, etc. I would love to work with Ryan Murphy on a film. As a director he’s brilliant and on set, more than any director I’ve ever worked with, he’s so cool to work with because he gives you so many choices. A lot of directors are very specific with the way that they see roles so they want you to do it their way but Ryan will let you do it your way and then give you five different ways in a row to do it, so when you cut it together, you have so many different colors going on. I’d love to work with him on a larger scale. I worked with Steve Gagen on a pilot and I think that guy’s brilliant. 

With Ryan, everything he does is so different but his aesthetic translates throughout all of them. I see similarities between Nip/Tuck and Glee, which seems pretty odd.
Yeah, and even on our show the way that sometimes they’ll cut away to people talking in camera, it’s also very obscure references and thought processes that’s nothing like you’ve seen on network television. It almost has that FX sort of vibe to it and it’s so Ryan—something is so off and unique. He’s got three shows, he’s developing a couple more, he’s doing a film right now. I don’t know how he does it, he has like nine lives at once.

How did you get connected with The New Normal?
The initial audition was the pilot and it was just one page and it was a guest star possibility to reoccur, so I took it and I spent like four and a half hours working on it and then I went in. You know, all the guys are going to come in and read it the same way, so I spent a lot of time making up some weird character and doing something super unique that at least they’d remember. I went in and got it and we shot the pilot and it was really fun and then they asked me back for the second episode. At that point they offered me five out of thirteen episodes but while I was shooting the second episode, they offered me the regular position. I was like, Wow, because I was such a fan of the show and the writing was brilliant and the cast. And it just keeps getting better and better and more weird and more amazing.

In your first scene on the show Ellen Barkin points a gun on you while you’re in bed after you’re caught having sex. How was that?
The sex scene was funny because Jessica Lu, the girl that I worked with in it, she’s a friend of mine so it was fun and funny and we had a really good time with it because it can be really uncomfortable and awkward when somebody is, you know, just sitting on your body. But Ellen, she’s great, she’s so tough.

What’s interesting about her character is that she can be so awful but still cares so much about her family that you can’t hate her.
And she believes it. Something that gives this show so much credit is, it’s not trying to push the left wing down your throat, because it’s very sympathetic to conservatives. So Ellen’s point of view on things, so many people feel that way. People really believe that. So it’s good to have both opinions and both points of view so people aren’t just, oh this is just another show trying to spread their beliefs on it. The political episode, “Obama Mama”, how they showed both sides and everything’s very valid that she says and everything on the other way, you totally understand. 

I feel like a lot of shows touch on having these strong opinions, whether it’s politics or religion, etc but this show really always makes it into a discussion.
It’s true and it shows you both ways. A lot of shows are like okay this is what we believe so we’re going to cram it down your throat because we want you to believe it too. I think if it didn’t have that the show would just be another show. 

Has there been a lot of people that are in opposition to the show?
A Mormon company that owns one of the NBC affiliates in Utah pulled it, they wouldn’t show it. One Million Moms, they’re trying to pull out our advertising. I mean that’s pretty difficult and it’s sad that people think that’s okay. Don’t watch the show, tell your friends how ridiculous it is, do what you’ve got to do but you can’t speak for people that you don’t know. People don’t have to watch it but you should be able to have the option. This is America, it’s a progressive society and it’s dealing with people’s lives. You’d think that One Million Moms would want to help something that stops bullying and helps these kids who are afraid to be themselves because people chastise them for it. We’re not going to just shove this same sex thing down your throat, this is about all kinds of families, and I think that Ryan is the perfect person for a show like this.

What do you look for in a role?
I look for realness in characters. So many things people try to push the envelope just for the sake of doing it and if people wouldn’t do that, if it doesn’t justify what they’ve done for the rest of the story, it just doesn’t make sense.

Non-Comprehensive Or Even Remotely Accurate Predictions For This Season of ‘Glee’

Everyone’s favorite erotic Tumblr slash-fic inspiration—er, show about show choir—returns to FOX tonight. After a season full of after-school-special moments about the dangers of texting while driving; a weird, offensive episode about the importance of not being racist; a character’s suicide attempt being reduced to a subplot and a pair of sweet, redemptive moments in the form of an Adele mash-up and an actually nuanced and well-done and maybe sort of realistic? episode about losing your virginity and West Side StorySeason Four will begin with a lot of unanswered questions and two different timelines, one in Ohio and one in New York.

We know so far that Rachel (Lea Michele) is trying to make it in the big city at Apparently The Only Musical Theatre School in the Country, NYADA, where she has trouble adjusting and clashes with her dance instructor, played by Special Guest Star Kate Hudson. We know that Puck’s little brother is joining the Glee Club, Kurt becomes a Vogue intern under the direction of Sarah Jessica Parker, Sue has a kid now because of reasons and what, Puck’s little brother is joining the New Directions and Ryan Murphy’s new Super Best Friend NeNe Leakes is coming back. Here are my probably inaccurate and definitely not comprehensive predictions of other things that will happen this season. 

  • At least one Fame reference in the first episode.
  • Kate Hudson will be surprisingly fun to watch and bring back that nice, refreshing dose of pure evil that made the show so fun to watch in its early days.
  • Sue Sylvester refers to Tina Cohen-Chang as “Gangnam Style” in the first episode, because offensive is Sue’s shtick, or something and this would be offensive AND topical! 
  • Kurt and Blaine break up because long distance/that smarmy Sebastian guy. Kurt takes the news particularly hard, and in the midst of an alcohol-fueled spiral, sings The Smiths’ “There Is A Light (That Never Goes Out).” 
  • Following said breakup, Rachel, Kurt and recurring plot snag Jesse St. James (Jonathan Groff) start a romantic relationship. (YOU’RE WELCOME, TUMBLR.)
  • Kristin Chenoweth comes back and destroys Mr. Schue’s engagement to Emma. Sadly, she fails, and there’s a terrible after-school special sequence about it.
  • Rachel moves to Brooklyn; pals around with Surprise Guest Star Zosia Mamet. Word "hipster" thrown about way too casually. 
  • Following week is a Very Special Episode about the dangers of cocaine. 
  • Sue Sylvester gets embroiled in a scandal when the weird, unnecessary kid with the gossip blog catches her putting her new infant child atop the pyramid.
  • Ryan Murphy completely abandons the show to immerse himself in his new gift-wrapped turd The New Normal and wins all the GLAAD awards.
  • Darren Criss performs a highly inappropriate but somewhat tolerable routine to Prince’s “Darling Nikki” at some point and everyone is still shocked that you can say “masturbating” in primetime.
  • The show finally, finally stops trying to make us care about anything happening in the life of Finn Hudson and ships him off to Afghanistan.
  • A spinoff launches starring Rachel’s dads and it is infinitely better than The New Normal if only by virtue of national treasure Jeff Goldblum.
  • I get frustrated with everything five minutes into the first episode, switch to whiskey and put the likely equally disappointing Bears-Packers game on instead. FOOTBALL. 

GLAAD Hosts Gigantic Ad For ‘The New Normal’ Disguised as an “Infographic”

I’ve never been too keen on the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, otherwise known as GLAAD. I’m all for people who are also against defaming gays and lesbians, but I never found several of their initiatives, particularly those in the entertainment sector, to be very positive for the gay community. Take, for example, The GLAAD Media Awards, which generally laud celebrities, news outlets, TV shows, and films for doing the very least to portray people of the LGBT community in any positive light—mostly by simply marketing to them. I’ve always found it to be a bit pandering! And, not surprisingly, the organization seems to have thrown all of their support behind Ryan Murphy’s new NBC sitcom, The New Normal.

I watched the pilot for The New Normal. Now, I know, generally, pilots are not too representative of a television show. But the pilot for The New Normal was not good. It was full of easy laughs, excruciatingly calculated heart-warming moments, and a generally shitty outlook—it’s full of racist humor and downright mean, which is not particularly becoming for a show that makes a point to show the positives of a same-sex couple raising a child. So why is GLAAD, an organization the purports the positive depiction of LGBT community members, devote an entire page of its site to the show in what is basically a massive advertisement?  

The short answer, I assume, is "money". But let’s focus more on what the site intends to do. It lists three examples of same-sex couples who are successfully raising their children. See? These couples are The New Normal! Just like the show! They do not, of course, feature group shots of their families large enough to include their homophobic and racist family members (like the cast photo that features Ellen Barkin’s character) or with their African-American employee (in The New Normal‘s case, played by Real Housewives of Atlanta provocateur Nene Leakes). Nor is there any sense that these same-sex couplings are restricted to somewhat sexist and heteronormative gender norms as in the show, in which Justin Bartha (who is straight in real life) plays the masculine one of the pair, which Andrew Rannells (who is gay in real life) plays the queeny one. 

Additionally, GLAAD hosts an infographic claiming, despite the suggestion of homophobic group One Million Moms, that American TV has a long history of featuring same-sex parents. Forty years worth of history, in fact! Sure, of its fifteen examples, eleven of them are from the last twenty years. One example, from 1987, is a pair of secondary characters from a recurring sketch on The Tracy Ullman Show. Another, from 1977, is Billy Crystal’s character from Soap—the first series regular who was a homosexual—who impregnates a woman on a one-night stand. And there’s the suggestion that American Dad is forging the concept of same-sex parenting, because Seth MacFarlane is clearly a bastion of tolerance, respect, and equality.

So, what gives? Is GLAAD suggesting that we should just settle for a show that preaches intolerance for humor’s sake as much as it delivers self-congratulatory respect for non-traditional families? Or is GLAAD’s support of the show (which you can see in full below) just another example of it giving attention to another series that probably doesn’t do much for the LGBT community other than perpetuate the same lame stereotypes we’ve seen on television for years? After all, wouldn’t it be a lot edgier to portray a same-sex couple in a sitcom with a little less levity?

Contact the author of this post at tyler@bbook.com, and follow him on Twitter.

‘The New Normal’ Too Gay For Utah TV

Oh, Utah. KSL-TV is refusing to air NBC’s upcoming comedy The New Normal about a gay couple trying to procreate with the help of a surrogate. It is "inappropriate on several dimensions, especially during family viewing time," you see. The CEO made this decision after only viewing The New Normal‘s pilot episode, the Hollywood Reporter says, pronouncing Normal‘s dialogue "crude," the content "explicit," and the characterizations "offensive." Translation: too gay.  

This is the same station which wouldn’t air The Playboy Club because OMG whores. I guess this means the station also won’t air Two And A Half Men, which employed wife beater Charlie Sheen and now employs wife cheater Ashton Kutcher? And every episode of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette will be gone, too, for all that premarital sex? 

Ellen Barkin, who stars on The New Normal with Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannels, blasted the station over Twitter, calling them "blatantly homophobic." Barkin continued, "So L&O SVU (rape & child murder) is ok? But loving gay couple having a baby is inappropriate?"

Really, we should feel sorry for the poor little country bumpkin Utah TV station. They actually take those toothless threats from bigoted busybodies One Million Moms seriously.

Pain-In-The-Ass Bigots Harassing NBC Over Gay Comedy

One Million Moms, the very noisy group of bigots that only wishes it numbered one million people strong, is threatening to boycott NBC’s advertisers over the upcoming fall comedy, The New Normal. The show will star Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannels as a gay couple who try to start a family via a surrogate; its creators and executive producers are Ryan Murphy and Allison Alder, who are both openly gay. Oh my God, OMM’s minds must be blown

OMM, which is a product of the anti-gay marriage group the American Family Association, has promised to target The New Normal‘s advertisers and prevent this pernicious show from infecting your TV and "desensitize American and our children" with offensiveness that is "opposite of how families are designed and created." Wah wah wah "decay of morals and values" wah wah wah "redefine marriage" wah wah wah "harmful to our society" wah wah wah.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation dismissed the bigots’ revulsion to show, which premieres on  September 11, and sniffed that the group was "doing its best to stir controversy where there is none."

In other news: Justin Bartha had better take his shirt off on The New Normal or I will be launching a boycott of my own.