Ryan Murphy’s Master Plan

Ryan Murphy 3Getty Images

So after going back and forth on it, I decided to sit down this week to watch the first episode of Feud, the latest entry in Ryan Murphy’s new plan to slowly take over television, one anthology series at a time.

The prolific creator now has at least three of them going, including his long-established American Horror Story and, as of last fall, the phenomenally successful American Crime Story. AHS is about to enter its seventh season later this year, while ACS debuted last year with a 10-episode retelling of the O.J. Simpson trial, with lots of Emmys all around for the people involved. It, too, will be back this year, this time focusing on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

It’s an interesting path to blaze, focusing on series that he can restart with fresh stories and new casts with each passing year. He mentioned in an interview last week that he, personally, no longer has the attention span to follow a televised serial for multiple seasons, and found that this attitude lent itself to working on this kind of format. It coincides with what I think we can all agree is the general shortening of the American Attention Span, which would help to explain why these outings are so successful for him and FX, the network that tends to broadcast them.

As it happens, it also jibes well with Murphy’s own strengths, as his two previous shows that lasted more than two seasons — Nip/Tuck and Glee — each started great but ran out of gas long before they ended. So what better way to fix that than to focus on anthologies, that feature a single story, told in a single season?

I’m not really much of a horror guy, so AHS never appealed to me, but the first season of ACS was terrific, and I’m on board so far with Feud. Considering there are only eight episodes total, I imagine I’ll stick with it to the end, especially since Hollywood history, along with all the behind the scenes machinations involved, is sort of in my wheelhouse.

Still, the concept of doing these things in limited runs is a fairly genius one, because with so much to see and watch and consume, it’s a lot easier to make a shorter commitment to something, which is Murphy’s whole point. If you know you’re only required to stick around for a couple months, you’re probably more likely to hop aboard the train, y’know?

OJFox 21 Television Studios

But watching the first episode of Feud got me to thinking, and we all know by now how dangerous that can be. It was announced last week that the second season would focus on Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and yet that still leaves a veritable treasure trove of terribly titillating trauma to explore over the coming seasons. Literally dozens of tales of conflict and woe that Murphy and his team can get their hands dirty airing to the millions of us who might tune in.

With that in mind, and with the knowledge that once this ginger bean of mine kicks into gear, it’s sort of tough to stop, I began to contemplate the possibilities of what might follow in the years to come. I immediately dismissed Donald Trump versus Rosie O’Donnell, because as much fun as that might be, it appears that Murphy is already focusing on the 2016 election for the new season of AHS, which would make something like this battle redundant.

Also, I discounted my own conflict with my downstairs neighbor who, for the two years she lived below me, insisted on smoking cigarettes on her terrace, which made the smoke float right into my apartment, and when I asked her to take it inside her own place, she said she didn’t like smoking in her own apartment because it made everything smell bad, completely indifferent to what she was instead doing to my apartment, which led to my wearing motorcycle boots all the time and making sure to step heavily wherever I went, Ga-LUNK, Ga-LUNK, Ga-LUNKing on the hardwood floors whenever possible, even in the middle of the night if I had to get up to go to the bathroom (and if you think it was overkill to stop and put those boots on just for that, then take them off again right away before climbing back into bed, trust me, it wasn’t).

Getting into some deep historical territory, something like Mary Queen of Scots versus Queen Elizabeth I would be fairly juicy, what with the period costumes and horses and castles and stuff. There’s even a beheading at the end — always my preferred method to properly end a feud — but I wonder if that’s sexy enough for what Murphy has planned. It’s for the same reason, actually, that a Stalin versus Trotsky story probably wouldn’t work either, much as I think we’d all like to see that.

I mean, come on, what beats 1920s Soviet Russia for color, frivolity, and all around sex appeal? For my money, almost nothing, though the timeless and classic tale of Cain and Abel just might. All kidding aside, that would actually be pretty bad ass. Lots of fun to be had with the Bible’s first feud, as long as we’re not counting Adam and Eve and the Serpent, of course.

"'Bette Davis Eyes' is an overrated song." "How dare you." (FX)Fox 21 Television Studios

I think it might be tough to do Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, what with the tough job of following in the footsteps of Lin-Manuel Miranda, but given eight hours to do it? The success of Hamilton might even help, just as the show’s astronomical  album sales have sparked a renewed interest in American History among kids.

Considering the way Murphy works, though, I think it’s safer to assume he’ll stick closer to Hollywood for future seasons. In that vein, you could have a terrific time focusing solely on Debra Winger. Recall, please, the troubles the talented actress had with Richard Gere, and then with Shirley MacLaine, and John Malkovich, and the press … the list goes on.

But really, it seems to me that, should the series continue beyond next year, there’s really only one Hollywood story that definitely, completely, totally and for sure needs to be told: the legendary and decades-long feud between Olivia de Haviland and her sister, Joan Fontaine. Both movie stars, both Oscar winners, lifelong rivals and nemeses (literally, their entire lives), they were nominated against each other for Best Actress at the 1941 Oscars (Fontaine won, for Rebecca), and permanently estranged for the final seven decades of Fontaine’s life. She died in 2013, at the age of 96. De Haviland is still ticking, and will be 101 this summer.

If that’s not a great Feud, one worthy of eight to ten hours of primetime television, then I simply don’t understand the meaning of the word. Someone call Murphy. He need look no further.

Neil Turitz 2 is a filmmaker and journalist who has spent close to two decades working in and writing about Hollywood. Feel free to send him a tweet at @neilturitz. He’ll more than likely respond.

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Still quiet here.sas

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