When face-lifts attack: It's gore TV
By Glenn Garvin
Knight Ridder News Service
10 p.m. Tuesdays
Sometimes it's outrageous, and sometimes it's an outrage. It's got murder by liposuction, backward buttock implants, collapsed boob jobs, teenage three-ways, botox torture, twin three-ways, self-circumcision, man-eating gators and cockfights. It's got so much blood and gore that its own cast almost upchucks.
And it's all Miami's fault!
If the city hadn't scared the heck out of Ryan Murphy with a gang fight in front of him his first night there; if he hadn't filled his brain full of stories of crazy people chopping off heads and throwing them at cops; and if he hadn't gone to see a plastic surgeon well, OK, we'll get back to that one in a minute then "Nip/Tuck" might never have happened.
This comedy-drama about the grisly adventures of a pair of middle-age-crazy Miami plastic surgeons debuted last week on the FX network. From now on, nobody is going to look the same way again at Miami, plastic surgery and quite possibly television.
"I wanted to do something so violent it will shock even me," admits Murphy, the 35-year-old creator of "Nip/Tuck," interviewed over lunch at West Hollywood's Chateau Marmont hotel.
But narcotraffickers jabbing needles full of botox into a man's nether regions; plastic surgeons delivering their mistakes to gators in the Everglades; twin University of Miami coeds trying out their new equipment on their surgeon before their scars are even healed ("a Doublemint moment," as the script calls it) those people, he thinks, viewers will like.
Just 19, Murphy got a summer job at the Miami Herald. He cultivated Edna Buchanan, the Ghoul Queen of police reporters.
"I think I kind of annoyed her at first; it was like, 'Buzz off, kid,' " Murphy remembers. "But finally she would let me hang out with her. She was so great at that headless-body-in-topless-bar stuff. We'd sit in bars and she'd tell me all these lurid murder stories all night."
Murphy parlayed two internships and a raft of free-lance assignments at the Herald into a job as the paper's Los Angeles correspondent. "Or chief of the Los Angeles Bureau," he intones grandly, "as they liked to call it. Some bureau my living room! I had visions of writing all these meaty pieces, but that never happened, because, get real, what is there here? One of my first big stories was the Zsa Zsa Gabor cop-slapping case, which I covered as if it was the Lindbergh kidnapping.
"And I wrote a lot of popular-culture trend stories, because Herald editors thought everything in L.A. was the beginning of a trend, which everybody else knows isn't true, but I wasn't going to tell them."
One peculiar new Los Angeles custom that horrified Murphy was calf implants for men.
"That had just gotten started, and I was appalled," he says. "I made an undercover appointment with a Beverly Hills surgeon I planned a really snarky story, I was really going to tee off on this. So I go in to talk to the surgeon. And within 10 minutes, he convinced me I needed five operations. I left there so shaken, I thought something was really wrong with me. I never wrote the story, but eventually I really began thinking about how people seek external solutions to internal problems, their feelings about themselves."
To the surprise of none of his colleagues, Murphy soon left journalism for show business. He sold a script, still unproduced, to Steven Spielberg, and got a show called "Popular" about a pair of mismatched high school girls onto the WB network for a couple of seasons.
But his brooding obsession with the visit to the plastic surgeon never disappeared, and last year he pitched the idea to FX, the home of edgy shows like the renegade-cop drama "The Shield." By February, he was shooting the pilot in Miami.
"So it went from a Miami Herald story never written to a TV show," Murphy sums up the tale. "Not your standard course of TV development."
Not that anything else about "Nip/Tuck" is standard. Though Murphy argues that it's no bloodier than police fare like "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," his own cast and crew scoff at that.
"You should hear the screams from the crew during some of the operations," says Julian McMahon, who plays one of the plastic surgeons. "It's remarkable. People had to turn away, or watch with their hands over their eyes."
One seemingly arty time-lapse sequence showing a start-to-finish face-lift actually was produced that way because the show's editor nearly threw up while trying to cut it at normal speed.
Murphy insists there was no other way to do the show. "Doing a show about plastic surgery without showing operations is like doing a police show where the cop never draws his gun," he says. "One of the plastic surgeons I talked to said a face-lift is like being thrown through a windshield at 70 miles an hour, then having your face sewed back on. That kept coming back to me. I thought we had to show that. ..."
FX executives say they're unperturbed by the gross-out moments in "Nip/Tuck." "We're not out here trying to push the boundaries of taste," says network president Peter Liguori. "We're trying to push the boundaries of creativity."