FX’s Hot Hit Series Gets Under the Skin

Oct 27, 2003  •  Post A Comment

FX President Peter Liguori should thank Cher for the network’s hit drama “Nip/Tuck.”
The show’s creator Ryan Murphy was toiling away as an entertainment journalist in Los Angeles when he realized he needed a career change. “After I had interviewed Cher for the sixth time, I was like, `I can’t interview Cher again,”’ he said. “I’ve got to do something else.”
So Mr. Murphy wrote a novel, and though it was never published, it did help him land an agent. After creating and writing The WB series “Popular” and developing a sitcom that didn’t get picked up, Mr. Murphy had another epiphany.
“I stood back and was like, `Why am I doing these light, pithy comedy shows?’ Because when I was a kid, the things I was really attracted to were dark things like `The Conversation’ and `The Exorcist.’ So I said screw it, I’m going to take a chance and I’m going to try to transform my career by doing a show that was about transforming other people.”
That show turned out to be “Nip/Tuck,” a drama about two male plastic surgeons who own a practice together in Miami and are best friends. Sean (Dylan Walsh) is the stable married guy with two kids, while Christian (Julian McMahon) is the charismatic, ethically challenged playboy who has always had a thing for Sean’s wife (Joely Richardson).
“Nip/Tuck” scored right out of the gate and has become the highest-rated show on FX- surpassing “The Shield”-and the No. 1 new show on basic cable this year. Over 12 weeks, the show is averaging a 3.0 household rating in FX homes, or 2.4 million households, and a 2.3 rating in adults 18 to 49, according to Nielsen Media Research. It has improved its time slot by 398 percent in households and 436 percent in adults 18 to 49 vs. the same period last year.
“It’s a second signature show for the network,” Mr. Liguori said. “It further cemented the brand that we’ve been developing here. It proved we were more than a one-hit wonder.”
FX ordered a 15-episode second season of “Nip/Tuck”-which will begin production in February-after the sixth episode aired.
Mr. Murphy, who grew up in Indianapolis and studied journalism at Indiana University, said he came up with the idea for the show in the early ’90s when he was working for the Miami Herald. Calf implants for men were becoming popular-something Mr. Murphy couldn’t fathom, so he decided to go undercover to a plastic surgeon’s office and write a story about it.
“I went to this really cool guy in Beverly Hills and in 10 minutes he told me not only did I need new calves but a new body, and he listed all these things he would fix with me and how it would make my life better,” Mr. Murphy said. “I was so appalled and struck by it that I was truly thinking maybe he’s right. I was so upset that I didn’t write the article, and I always had that in the back of my head [for a TV show].”
However, selling Hollywood on the idea that a show about plastic surgery should be a drama and not a comedy was a difficult proposition. “It’s incredibly dark. If you go in and say to somebody, `Put me under the knife and give me a chance to die so I can look better,’ that’s a very dark, brutal thing,” Mr. Murphy said.
FX bought the show right after it heard the pitch in August 2002, Mr. Liguori said.
“Ryan had a really clear take on this and a unique vision,” he said. “It was that marriage of boldness with quality that really attracted us to the series.”
The series was fast-tracked, with production set to start in January 2003. Mr. Murphy started writing the script in October 2002, and in a weird twist of fate found one of his leading men. After he wrote the first scene of the show, which included the character Sean, he turned on the TV and saw Mr. Walsh acting in a terrible cable movie.
“He just looked miserable, and I was like, `this guy is so good, he deserves to be a star,”’ said Mr. Murphy, who then wrote the part of Sean for him.
Convincing Mr. Walsh to take the part was another story. The day “Nip/Tuck” got the green light to shoot a pilot, Mr. Murphy went to lunch and ran into Mr. Walsh, who coincidentally, was eating at the same restaurant.
“I went up to him and said, `I know you think I’m a stalker, but I wrote this part for you and you’re getting the script tomorrow and I hope you’ll come in and read,”’ Mr. Murphy said. “He sort of blew me off and then got the script and came into the audition and was like `Oh my god, not only are you not a stalker but the script is good.”’
Many of the cases in the show appear too outrageous to be true, but Mr. Murphy said every one of them-including the one about girls who smuggle heroin into the country in their breast implants-is based on fact.
“The world is so twisted these days, we have no trouble gleaning from the headlines,” he said. “That’s what’s fun about the show. It taps into a zeitgeist nerve, particularly now with the baby boomer generation desperate to fight off the ravishes of age and having the money to do so.”
Network: FX
Premiere date: July 22, 2003
Studio: Shephard/Robin Co. in association with Warner Bros. Television Productions.
Time slot: Tuesday, 10 p.m. to 11p.m. (ET)
Cast: Dylan Walsh, Julian McMahon, Joely Richardson, John Hensley and Valerie Cruz.
Credits: Ryan Murphy, creator, executive producer and writer; Greer Shephard, executive producer; Michael Robin, executive producer.