Brad Falchuk ’93, L.H.D. ’14 “has quietly become one of the television industry’s most influential and in-demand producers,” Wall Street Journal Magazine reported this month in its profile of the award-winning co-creator of Glee and American Horror Story and executive producer of American Crime Story.
In “Why Brad Falchuk Is Hollywood’s Best-Kept Secret,” Falchuk discusses his personal and professional life, his ambivalent relationship with fame, and his new and ongoing projects — including his forthcoming Netflix series The Politician and the second season of the FX drama Pose, which explores the LGBTQ ballroom subculture and communities of color during the peak of the AIDS crisis in New York City.
At HWS, Falchuk was an English major with a concentration in theater. He launched his writing career during an independent study with Associate Professor Emeritus of English Elisabeth Lyon when he wrote the script that helped him secure admission to graduate school at the American Film Institute.
The full article is reprinted below.
Why Brad Falchuk Is Hollywood’s Best-Kept Secret
The press-shy man behind Ryan Murphy—and husband to Gwyneth Paltrow—has signed a major production deal of his own with Netflix. How the writer–producer–director, out with ‘The Politician,’ is carving his own path
By Alex Bhattacharji
Updated Aug. 14, 2019 3:10 pm ET
On the second floor of Building 12 on the Fox Studios lot in the Century City section of Los Angeles, home to Ryan Murphy Television, Brad Falchuk’s office sits beside that of his mentor Murphy, who first hired him as a junior writer on Nip/Tuck in 2003 and with whom he has worked on more than a half dozen series, including Glee, American Horror Story, American Crime Story, Scream Queens and Pose. The two workspaces are similar in size and décor. However, one contains a trove of Boston Red Sox and Bruce Springsteen memorabilia and Falchuk himself, a trim, muscular man in a white V-neck tee, paint-spattered carpenter pants and work boots, who straightens a stack of scripts before making his way to a story meeting.
The 48-year-old writer-producer-director warmly greets his friend Tim Minear—the two, along with Murphy, created the Fox hit procedural 9-1-1. “Literally, I googled my name yesterday—as one does,” Minear says, gently needling Falchuk, “and the first thing that came up was Brad Falchuk’s freaking Wikipedia page.”
“I’d be happy if that was the first thing that comes up,” says Falchuk, aware he’s trending because of an association of his own. “You wouldn’t believe some of the bullshit I see.”
Over the past several days, news that Falchuk and Gwyneth Paltrow, 46, his wife of nearly nine months, spend several nights a week apart in separate houses has spread across the internet and social media. The latest fuel on this mid-June day: Meghan McCain deriding Falchuk and Paltrow’s living arrangement as “rich people stuff,” ignoring that Paltrow and Falchuk stated this setup was made in deference to the needs of their teenage children from previous relationships—Isabella and Brody, from Falchuk’s marriage to Suzanne Bukinik; and Apple and Moses from Paltrow’s with Coldplay frontman Chris Martin. Such are the perils when the person you love and are married to—and yes, for now, live with four days per week—is not just an Oscar-winning actress and the CEO and founder of Goop but also a go-to target for celebrity gossip pages.
Falchuk is concerned with more pressing matters. “Wait. When is Posepremiering?” he asks as he takes a seat. “Is that tonight?” After the office assistant confirms that the second season of the hit FX series—about New York’s LGBTQ ballroom subculture and communities of color during the height of the AIDS crisis—is indeed coming back this evening, Falchuk nods and returns to discussing the scene at hand for 9-1-1: Lone Star, 9-1-1’s newly greenlighted Texan offspring. Falchuk, who has collected two Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe (as well as a combined 10 nominations), is no stranger to multitasking. In addition to his series on air, he is putting the finishing touches on the highly anticipated Netflix show The Politician, which starts streaming in September and stars Ben Platt, Jessica Lange and Paltrow. He also has numerous projects in various stages of development, both in collaboration with Murphy and—now that he has launched his production company, Brad Falchuk Teley-Vision, and signed a reported four-year deal with Netflix—on his own.
For all his proximity to fame, Falchuk has preferred to operate in the background. On this day, while Murphy is in New York doing a press tour for Pose, Falchuk will hunker down in his office and write a scene about the pain of trans parenthood for the eighth episode of the new season. For nearly two decades, this has been a mutually agreed upon division of labor. “I’m not the person out front. Never been my thing,” Falchuk says. “But it’s to a fault. It has cost me.”
Still, Falchuk has quietly become one of the television industry’s most influential and in-demand producers. His deal with Netflix is reportedly in the high eight figures. Netflix didn’t merely want to keep the Murphy-Falchuk producing team together, they wanted Falchuk—whom Ted Sarandos, the company’s chief content officer, calls a “remarkable individual creative force”—to pursue his own projects. Indeed, in the weeks since the deal went into effect, Falchuk has already set three new shows, with more in the offing. Long averse to attention, Falchuk is venturing far from the shadows now. “I’m launching a company, and people need to understand who I am,” Falchuk says. “I’ve operated as a light next to a very bright light.”
To be clear, Falchuk is referring to his work partner, not his romantic one. In fact, Paltrow bristles when her husband’s contributions are slighted. She says that while filming a promotional video for The Politician, she was asked: What is your favorite Ryan Murphy show? “I was like, Excuse me one f—ing second!” Paltrow recalls. “People think Ryan is a one-man band. It’s never bothered Brad, but at the same time, he is invested in creating his legacy.”
Paltrow is hardly the only one who encouraged Falchuk to strike out on his own and become more visible. “My agent always pushes me,” he says. “My brother. My friends. And Ryan always pushes me.”
Turns out, it takes a village to raise a reluctant television titan. “He’s already won and been successful at launching things,” says Murphy. “Because I am front and center, I do probably get too much credit. None of the shows that we have would work or be successful without Brad’s leadership.”
They’re going in, they’ve got to save the day,” Falchuk says, digging into the pilot of 9-1-1: Lone Star, which will star Rob Lowe and air on Fox in January 2020. Falchuk, Minear and two producers jump back and forth between scenes and dead-end more than once—all what Falchuk calls “invisible steps” toward what they hope will be yet another hit.
The palpable progress results from Falchuk’s sixth sense. “Brad somehow cannot just see a hole in a story, he can smell that something’s wrong,” says Ian Brennan, who co-created Glee, Scream Queens and The Politician with Falchuk and Murphy. And indeed, in short order, Falchuk sniffs out the gaps in Lowe’s character, a fish-out-of-water New York fire chief. “ ‘9-1-1. Hello, what’s your emergency?’ Every one of our characters needs to have an answer,” Falchuk says. “The problem with Rob is that there’s an air of perfection about him. But beneath that, what’s his emergency?”
A few minutes later the meeting breaks when Sarah Paulson, who has starred in eight seasons of American Horror Story and also inAmerican Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, comes in bearing hummus. The acclaimed actress is willing to trade dip for script help with her titular nurse in Ratched, Murphy’s forthcoming prequel to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In the past, Paulson has sought out Falchuk to craft a scene, most notably one between the conjoined twins she played on American Horror Story: Freak Show that she calls “one of the greatest acting challenges of my life.” According to Paulson, the key to Falchuk’s writing is his otherworldly ability to sense human emotion. “Brad’s an extraordinarily great listener—he picks up on all the tiny things that you may not mean to say,” she says. “It’s actually what’s so great about his writing, that ability to read nuance. It’s just about authenticity.”
Although Falchuk’s sensitivity came from within, it was shaped under Murphy, who uses his position to create work that celebrates diversity and the LGBTQ community. At times, Falchuk has been the lone straight man in the writers’ room. “I feel so lucky that I am mentored by a gay man who’s powerful—and coming from a place of looking to elevate people,” Falchuk says. “The only way to have compassion is to understand [people’s] lives…to hear their stories.”
Where Glee broke ground in representation, Pose, a show co-created by Steven Canals, a first-time producer and queer person of color, stands as a towering tribute to empowered storytelling. “A lot of writers in Hollywood believe they can write anything,” says Janet Mock, the acclaimed memoirist, who is a writer, director and producer on the show, “but Brad understands that Steven and me, we are the authorities on the specific experiences that we go through. He can listen in the room and he can translate the themes and the points of injustice that I faced, as a trans woman of color, into the character.”
The old assumption that embracing a niche subculture would limit a show’s commercial appeal is, thanks in part to Murphy and Falchuk, starting to fall away. Pose attracted critical acclaim in its first season, and just one episode into its second, it was preemptively renewed for a third. For its part, Netflix sees the audience-building benefits in Falchuk’s storytelling. “He seems to have an amazing ability to understand and to tap into the human condition and tell stories about people that are so specific they become universal,” Sarandos says via email.
Falchuk’s storytelling is informed by a personal narrative that is marked by a few emergencies. In 2008, at 37, Falchuk was found to have a mass on his spinal cord. Doctors told him it was cancer—a misdiagnosis, which could have killed him. Had he gone forward with radiation treatments, the mass—in actuality a collection of abnormal blood vessels called a spinal cavernous malformation—might have bled out. Luckily, he got properly diagnosed thanks to Best Doctors, the medical consultation service founded by his father, an internist and a professor at Harvard Medical School, and run by his brother. Following a second opinion from a neurosurgeon, Falchuk underwent surgery, which saved his life but left his spinal cord permanently damaged.
“Fortunately everything important works,” Falchuk says. However, the surgery’s after-effects still reverberate throughout his body. “There’s just pain, constantly,” he says. “Sometimes I want to crawl out of my skin, or my hand feels like it’s stuck in a beehive.” What’s more, Falchuk lives with another potentially fatal cavernous malformation in his brain, which could start bleeding at any time. “It’s like walking around with a guy with a gun at the back of your head at all times,” he says. “At any point, he could pull the trigger. He probably won’t, but he could trip.”
Although cavernous malformations are only sometimes hereditary, he inherited the condition from his father, Kenneth, who died in 2018, at 77. Kenneth was raised in Maracay, Venezuela, and moved to Brooklyn at 12. He eventually attended Harvard Medical School, became chief resident at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital (then Peter Bent Brigham Hospital) and joined the faculty at his alma mater, where he emphasized open-minded observation in diagnosis—a tenet he brought to Best Doctors. Falchuk’s mother, Nancy, worked as a nurse and later at Hadassah, the Jewish women’s organization that supports open-access health-care initiatives in Israel; she eventually rose to president of the organization. His younger sister, Aimee, once a lobbyist, is now a psychotherapist. Falchuk’s older brother, Evan, left a partner-track post at a Washington, D.C., law firm to run Best Doctors, which later sold for more than $400 million. In 2014, he made an unsuccessful run for governor of Massachusetts as a representative of the United Independent Party, which he founded.
Amid this accomplished family of academic achievers, there was Falchuk, the middle child, a good kid with bad grades. If his test scores were low, his self-regard was lower. In high school, Falchuk played baseball, lacrosse and basketball and shot horror movies on a VHS camera, but, he says, “I was not the guy you could point to and say, ‘That guy’s going somewhere.’ ” For a time, though, he did stand out. In a private school full of progressive kids, Falchuk wore a jacket and tie and, going against his beliefs, declared himself a Republican. “That’s what a smart person looks like,” Falchuk says of his conservative costumery. “I was just playing a part to cover up a deep insecurity: ‘I know I’m not special, so what can I do to make myself seem special?’ ”
During his sophomore year at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Falchuk was diagnosed with severe dyslexia. He says it was “true catharsis.” Having named the cause of his pain and perceived failures, he could address it. For the first time, he began getting positive feedback from professors, particularly on his writing.
After graduating, Falchuk drove cross-country to attend film school in L.A., at American Film Institute, and never left. It took him a half dozen years of spec scripts and pitches to land a writing job at a second-rate sci-fi show (Earth: Final Conflict), then another (Mutant X). Things changed when he was hired on Nip/Tuck. Within a year, Falchuk had ascended to Murphy’s right hand. “He was a star then, and he’s a star now,” says Murphy. “He and I will always be working on something [together] until I’m lowered into a coffin in the ground.”
While working on Nip/Tuck, Falchuk and Murphy became writing partners and produced Pretty/Handsome, a show about a trans gynecologist. The pilot was shot for FX in 2008 but never aired. “I don’t have any regrets,” Falchuk says. “If Pretty/Handsome goes, we don’t do Glee.” That genre-bending series, which ran six seasons, fundamentally altered Falchuk’s personal and professional lives. He met his future wife when Paltrow guest starred on the show in 2010, and he found his groove. “When we did Glee,” Murphy says, “we used to say I was the brain, Brad was the heart and Ian the funny bone. And I think that’s true. Brad is the heart of every show he’s worked on.”
Falchuk is prepared to play that part, and others, as he strikes out on his own. “Everything is coming together for him,” Murphy says. “He did the emotional and creative work to get all these things. I’m excited to see where he is going to go, because he always surprises me.”
Falchuk grants that he’s in a good place, albeit an unfamiliar one. “I’m going to have independence,” he says. “I have my own company. I’m stepping away from the people I’ve allied myself with and where I’ve had a lot of success…and that’s terrifying. So my emergency is: Am I good enough to do that? But that’s always been my emergency. Am I good enough?”
It’s Lunchtime, nearly a day after we last met, and Falchuk is sitting in the Grill on the Alley in Beverly Hills. The intervening hours have unfolded in typical fashion. He wrote a poignant scene for Pose and then went home and cooked dinner—a recipe from a Goop cookbook—but only he ate. (Paltrow is on a cleanse.) Then the two took a sunset walk on the beach in Santa Monica—where they went unrecognized—and returned home to watch the finale of Chernobyl before turning in early. “There’s a media version of her and me,” Falchuk says, “but we’re just home cooking dinner. Or she’s just cooking me breakfast. That’s all. We could not be a more normal couple.”
The two rarely discuss headlines, no matter how annoying they may be. “Gwyneth has a very tough skin. She’s like, ‘You’ve got to relax,’ ” he says. “At the end of the day, we’re getting into bed together…and nothing from the outside world or anybody’s opinion means anything. ”
If the celebrity commentariat had checked, they might have learned that Falchuk just sold his house in Brentwood a few days before. “I’m moving in September. We’ve just done it slowly,” he explains. “Divorce is terrible, even when it’s the right thing to do. And it’s really hard on kids.” Blending their families is going well precisely because they haven’t rushed matters. “Come September,” he says, “we’re all gonna Brady Bunch it up, and it’ll be great.”
That same month, he and Paltrow will be under the microscope again, as The Politician airs on Netflix. The series follows Payton Hobart, an overachiever determined to rise to ever-higher elected office, with each season tracing a different campaign, starting with student council president and including, if all goes to plan, a run for the White House. “It’s probably, everything told, my favorite thing ever that I’ve done,” Falchuk says.
It’s a satire in which no character is spared, including Paltrow’s. She plays Hobart’s adoptive mother, which Falchuk wrote as “a much darker version” of his wife. “I steal from everyone,” he says, “and I know her better than she knows herself.” Their time on set was terrific, except, he says, “She gets a little handsy.” After a moment, Falchuk second-guesses his humor and adds: “Only with me. Not with anybody else. I shouldn’t have made that joke….”
“It’s true,” says Paltrow. “I was handsy.”
At first, when Falchuk said he was writing a part for her, Paltrow didn’t think he was serious. Although she acts less and less these days, she couldn’t turn it down. Scheduling was difficult; working with Falchuk was not. “We have such a strong friendship and deep knowledge of the other, so it was very easy,” she says. “I can be very impatient with acting these days, and he was really good at wrangling that impatient side.”
In addition to working on Pose and 9-1-1 and the rest of his collaborations with Murphy, Falchuk is busy writing pilots and proposals to produce at Netflix. He’s gearing up to announce a full slate this fall, which will consist of a mix of comedy and drama, miniseries and documentary, and feature film projects. “He’s just coming into his own now,” Paltrow says. “I said to him, ‘You’re the best-kept secret.’ ”
Although Falchuk has come to terms with the need to raise his public profile, he has no interest in creating a two-celebrity household. “That whole world of fame is her world,” says Falchuk, who, with all due respect to Paltrow, doesn’t mind having the occasional moment away, especially with his children. “I always tell my kids, we have it great—because if I need to get us a dinner reservation in Rome, it’s easy. But when we get there, nobody knows us. I can operate anonymously in the world. And I like that.”
A moment later, a group of diners pauses by the table in front of Falchuk, then breaks into smiles and nods of recognition before continuing toward the exit. Falchuk shakes his head. “Look,” he says, with a laugh. “They must think I’m Zach Braff.”