Ryan Murphy Talks 9-1-1's 'Surprise' Success, Connie Britton's 1-Year Deal, Season Finale's 'Big Moment'

Connie Britton 9-1-1

Fox’s freshman first-responder drama 9-1-1 closes out its 10-episode first season tonight (9/8c) hyped up on ratings adrenaline. Boasting a 1.7 demo score that (with delayed viewing factored in) balloons to a 3.0, Ryan Murphy‘s starry procedural stands as Wednesday’s No. 1 series not to mention Fox’s biggest hit since Empire arrived on the scene more than three years ago.

Below, Murphy reveals to TVLine why the show’s out-of-the-gate success caught even him by surprise, talks Connie Britton‘s involvement in the already renewed Season 2 (the actress initially signed on for just one year), and previews the two “big” events at the center of tonight’s finale.

TVLINE | 9-1-1 was pretty much a hit right out of the gate. Were you surprised? 
It did catch me by surprise. [Fox co-chairman] Dana Walden had loved the procedural element of Nip/Tuck and she came to me said, “Can you do something that mixes the soap opera with the procedural like you did on Nip/Tuck?” I give her full credit for the impetus. And then I went to [longtime producing partners] Brad [Falchuk] and Tim [Minear] and we came up with this first-responders conceit. It wasn’t supposed to be on the air until Fall 2018, but then the first script came together so easily. And then I went to Angela [Bassett] and she said yes right away, and Peter Krause said yes without reading the script. And then Connie stepped in as a favor. So we just rushed it and it paid off. I was shocked at how well it did. It was that bizarre network hit where it was consistent every week.

TVLINE | You worked on an extremely tight production schedule. Didn’t you just wrap production on tonight’s finale last week?
It was very rushed.

TVLINE | I’m guessing you’ll have more breathing room next season, along with a larger episode order. How many episodes will Season 2 consist of?
It looks like Season 2 will be 16 episodes. We haven’t really nailed it down, but I think we’re going to do eight in the fall and eight in the spring. We’re also going to grow the cast a lot. We built the firehouse crew out a lot and followed their soap opera stories. And in the second season we’re expanding our 911 call-center group. We’re just beginning to cast those now.

TVLINE | Speaking of which, it’s my understanding that Connie signed on just for one year. 
We’re in the process of renegotiating her deal so she can come in and do a couple of episodes to keep her character alive. She really loves the cast and crew and she’s very hopeful that that can happen. [A spokesperson for Britton confirms that the actress is in talks to potentially return as a guest star.] And, in the interim, we will be casting other parts in that call center. We’re going after big names.

TVLINE | Is there anything in tonight’s episode that foreshadows Connie’s potentially scaled-back involvement next season?
Not really. Again, Connie and I are talking and she’s optimistic [that Abby will be back] in some capacity. I think the days of actors signing seven-year contracts and then not being able to do anything but that one particular show are over. Sarah Paulson was a regular on two shows of mine at once, and she went and did two movies in between. Actors have much more power and maneuverability than they had before. And I think that’s a good thing.

TVLINE | Does tonight’s episode feel like a finale, with cliffhangers and such?  
it feels like a finale. It has two big love events happening, one of which is the Abby-Buck story, where her mother has passed away and she’s trying to figure out what she wants to do. And I think her choice is very surprising. And there’s an Athena-Bobby story that fans will find very satisfying. After having so much difficulty thrown at them, I wanted them to have a moment of happiness.