Definitive WorksAmerican Horror StoryAmerican Crime StoryPoseGlee

If you made a list of the most culturally important shows of the 2010s, you would find that Ryan Murphy created at least four of them. Glee, American Horror Story, American Crime Story, and Pose each mark unique and vital contributions to both the creation of and politics around television in the 2010s. Additionally, Murphy found time to write a number of other shows that didn’t necessarily shift the TV landscape but further developed the delightfully campy Murphy brand and delighted his army of dedicated fans, including The New Normal, Scream Queens, Feud, 9-1-1, and The Politician.

Ryan Murphy redefined television by pioneering the limited series. Prior to 2014, the Emmys awarded an “Outstanding Miniseries.” Today, instead of a miniseries, we award an “Outstanding Limited Series,” which generally means a short, self-contained season of an anthology series or a TV show that lasts for only one season. When American Horror Story was first nominated under the old format, its competition was all TV movies and British shows. Today, the category is dominated by 10-episode American series that use the anthology format Murphy pioneered. Under Murphy’s influence, the limited series has become the hallmark of television prestige. Murphy’s complete remaking of the way television works has resulted in a total of 31 Emmy nominations and six wins for him personally, and many more for the actors and technicians who have worked alongside him. 

Murphy has also done as much as anyone to change representation on television. His greatest achievements in terms of quality, American Crime Story: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson, American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, and Feud, were milestones in racial, LGBTQ, and female representation respectively. 

Murphy bookended the decade with two of the most important moments in LGBTQ representation in television history. Glee brought an unabashed, boldly comic portrayal of the very gay world of high school musical theater to network television and Pose changed the way gay and trans people of color are portrayed on screen. Off-screen, Murphy has changed the game as well. His Half Initiative—aimed at making Hollywood more inclusive by creating equal opportunities for women and minorities—has set the standard for diverse directorial hiring in Hollywood. His recent nine-figure deal with Netflix should give him plenty of opportunities to expand on his mission of increasing diversity in front of and behind the camera. —Brenden Gallagher