When Ryan Murphy was in his early 30s, he went to a plastic surgery office to do research for his then-drama “Nip/Tuck.” In similar fashion, a real life experience inspired his latest drama, “9-1-1-.”
“My son Ford was 11 months old and in the middle of the night stopped breathing,” Murphy said at Fox’s Television Critics Assn. press tour panel for the show Thursday. “We called 9-1-1, and obviously we were in a panic and doing CPR, and they showed up, and at two in the morning there were four responders. They were incredibly calm and nurturing, and they brought him back to life.”
Murphy remembers the experience emotionally, noting that at one point one of the responders asked him to leave the room, and when they transported the boy to the hospital, only one parent could ride in the ambulance with him. Ford recovered, but the responders remained on Murphy’s mind. Struck by the balance they must provide for people having the worst days of their lives, he wanted to tell their stories.
Like “Nip/Tuck” before it, “9-1-1” has procedural elements that are based on true cases researched both by speaking to real life responders, as well as digging into extreme stories that have gone viral online. Some cases will therefore reflect what is really going on in the world, but Murphy is making a point not to get political with the stories the show tackles.
“I’m interested in presenting stories that are uplifting and aspirational and that give you hope, given viewers hope that here is good out there,” he said. “There is a feeling that I was left with [when the responders saved my son], and that feeling is what we’re trying to put in the show.”
Every episode starts from a place of “What’s your emergency?” and tells the story of three or four cases that the 9-1-1 operators, police officers, and firefighters who get the calls experience. Murphy calls it a “blue skies show” focusing on “people that got up every day and did good deeds while battling their own demons but put other people before them and created a community.”
Murphy was also interested in doing something different from what he had done recently. After spending years on anthology dramas starting with “American Horror Story” and expanding into “American Crime Story” and “Feud,” he was looking to get back to episodic drama.
“I never want to use the word ‘reinvent,’ but I was interested in doing something that was new for me,” Murphy said. “Within that world, I was interested in creating a show where the emergencies at the heart of the show were from the lead characters.”
But beyond the stories on-screen, Murphy was also interested in expanding the world for the talent he worked with both above and below the line.
“The thing I’m most interested in is bringing up new talent, making success available to minorities [and] woman. I’m able to do that, and I like that. What excites me most is coming up with an idea and creating a family and a community to create that show. I’ve been moving towards that in the past few years, but now I’m doing it a very large way,” Murphy said.
In addition to growing a team of writers, producers, and directors through his company — and through the Half Foundation – Murphy is continuing to provide equity for some of his actors. Angela Bassett, who stars on “9-1-1” as Athena Grant is also an executive producer on the show.
“9-1-1” airs on Wednesdays at 9pm on Fox.