Fresh off Glee’s 19 Emmy nominations, the show’s writing team of Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan took a bow Monday night at a Paley Center for Media “Inside the Writers Room” session in Beverly Hills.
Less rapturous, perhaps, than the show's PaleyFest event in March, the session focused specifically on the experience of writing the show as the trio dished on their creative process. And Murphy, Falchuk, and Brennan certainly conveyed the sense that the experience has been a dream come true.
"I feel very humbled and stunned that people got [Glee]—in a big way," Muprhy said. "I'm just very grateful. It’s a very unusual show, it’s a very unusual tone, and I think what it’s about is unusual. The fact that the show is embraced as much as it has been is just amazing to me. It’s a true gift in my life."
Murphy, Falchuk, and Brennan are currently writing the opening scripts for Season 2, which premieres September 21 at 8pm on Fox. (Fans in need of a Season 1 refresher course can get their fix on September 14, when Glee: The Complete First Season comes out on Blu-ray and DVD.)
Here are the highlights from Monday's event:
On Javier Bardem's Gleekiness
Murphy: I went up to him and said, I want to congratulate you on your Best Actor award at Cannes and he goes, “I don’t want to talk about Cannes, I want to talk about Glee.” And he had downloaded every episode and said that he watched them on a crack binge. He knew everything about everybody and he’s like, “I want to come on, would you write me something?” So how how do you say no to Javier Bardem? You kind of don’t.
On the secret Sue Sylvester-Branch Davidian connection
Murphy: Our process is very unusual. I don’t even know how to describe it. We sit in a room, like today, and the conversations are crazy. At one point today, Ian said, “I think Sue dated David Koresh.” And then you just go from there.
Brennan: I also thought she would describe [that experience] as “a wet, extremely hot American summer.”
On the comedic gold that is Brittany and Santana
Brennan: The Brittany-Santana thing, that just happened. They’re a genius comic duo and nobody could have planned it. It was a total gift to write to. And they’re young, and Heather [Morris] is a dancer and she said, ‘Well maybe I should take acting classes.” And you’re like, “F---, no! Are you f---ing kidding me? Do not do anything! You are possibly the most talented person of your generation!” It just happened. It’s such a weird gift.
On the character of Terri Schuester
Murphy: What I think people forgot is that what I was moved by was the idea of a hysterical pregnancy. And then, of course, when she lied about it to this wonderful Matt Morrison, you kind of do hate her. But the thing about a show like this is that you need villains. And she sort of became one after the first thirteen episodes and that’s something to write for. I like that. I thought it had a sort of happy ending for us in some weird way…. She’s moving to all of us. I think what she needs to do is date someone who will make Will pea-green with jealousy. We’re trying to figure out who that person is. It’s not the principal, for one. We have a very narrow list of candidates.
Falchuk: I think Terri is a blast. For me, writing her, you just feel like that part of yourself that is so scared and honest comes out, and everybody has that part of themselves. Like, “If I was really just totally selfish right now and only spoke from my total fear, this is what I would say to my spouse.” And she does. And she believes it and she’s usually kind of right. I also think Jessalyn [Gilsig] is just this brilliant, brilliant actress, and so she makes it really believable where you’re like, “You’re not just a bitch, you’ve got a good point of view."
We can stretch reality pretty far on our show. It might have been stretching a little too far that Will didn’t figure out [the fake pregnancy], that a husband wouldn’t figure that out eventually. That may have turned people off. If you look at the reality of what was going on there, it was a woman who was so in love with her husband and had a sense that she was losing him. And she said, “I’ll do anything to keep this man. Anything.” Including something totally insane and crazy. In the second season, she’ll be doing the same thing. Because she loves Will. She wants Will. He’s the love of her life. As crazy as she is, he’s the love of her life and so she will do anything to get him in the same way she did anything to try and keep him. If you look at it from that point of view, she’s a woman in love. Then she’s a little more sympathetic.
On the disastrous mash-up of “Bust A Move” and “I Could Have Danced All Night”
Murphy: It came out sounding like something from It’s A Small World.
On the team's collaborative process
Falchuk: The three of us make a very good writer together. If you’re laughing, Ian wrote it. If you’re crying, I wrote it. And if you’re just like, “Holy crap, did that just happen?” then Ryan wrote it.
On how they select music for the show
Murphy: It’s just really personal. There’s no rhyme or reason. I really don’t understand it. I feel like the songs choose us in some weird way. If you look at the album, it’s nuts. It looks like the playlist of a schizophrenic. It makes no sense. One of the things that I’m most proud of with the show is that a song from Funny Girl can be in the top ten on iTunes. That young kids can learn about this music that I grew up with and loved, like “One Less Bell To Answer.” The thing about the show that’s so mind-blowing is that the original songs by the original artists re-chart. So we give love, literally, back to people who inspired us.
Brennan: There are two things about Ryan Murphy, he has encyclopedic knowledge about two things. One is what anybody f---ing wore to the Oscars. It’s weird. But then the other thing is, “That song was number one for three weeks in 1970.” And you’re like, what? And you look, and it really was. So he has been paying attention to that for longer than most and has an ear for what people really like. That’s been a total godsend.
On why Glee works
Murphy: One of the reasons why this show works and why college shows do not work, by and large, is that high school is always about first times—the first time for so many things in your life. And no matter how old you are, you remember your first kiss, you remember your first fight, you remember your first car accident. And if you can take that vulnerability and tie it to your adult characters, which we try to do, then you’re okay.
Falchuk: With any television writing, the key is that you’re making a pact with the audience to say, “You can trust me. I’m going to give you real stuff, I’m going to keep entertaining you, and I’m not going to start screwing around with you.” And if you can maintain that trust, you can kind of do anything. We try to maintain that trust by keeping it as real as possible. And we keep it as real as possible by expressing things that didn’t necessarily happen to us factually, but happened to us emotionally.
On the scene where Mr. Hummel confronts Finn about using the term fag
Murphy: When I was in high school, I was very odd because I was both very weird and popular. My dad got a phone call at work one day and someone said, “Your son is the F-word.” He came home and said somebody called him and said that. Then he walked off to his room. And he said nothing else. So I was very gobsmacked by that and to be an artist for me is to sort to get to express what I wish would have happened. What I wish my father had said.
I didn’t have a kid like [Kurt] when I was watching television. At 16. For little me to be able to sort of hear that that’s not cool. And for a parent to be watching with a child. That is why that scene exists. We wrote that for that reason. The only other thing I’ll say about it is that the show has always been about two things, which are the arts and inclusion. When we did the tour at Radio City, one of the most moving things that I have ever seen was just the tremendous amount of kids in wheelchairs who came from all over the country because they saw somebody on television who looked like them. So yes, life is not like that. I wish life were. And that’s what we do.