FX Network and FX Productions’ CEO John Landgraf made perhaps the most quoted statement of the year regarding the state of television viewing when he told the Television Critics Association in August, “I long ago lost the ability to keep track of every scripted television series, as I know you do, even though we all do this for a living professionally, but this year, I finally lost track of the ability to keep track of every programmer [network] who is in the scripted programming business.” Landgraf’s conclusion, shared even by many viewers who aren’t in the business: “This is simply too much television.”
When Landgraf’s session is over, he makes time for some one-on-one follow-up conversation about some less universal matters regarding FX Network.
ASSIGNMENT X: For a good while, most of the dramas on FX were set in real-world America. Does the success of your vampire series THE STRAIN make you feel more confident about doing things that aren’t within that sort of Americana zone? That is, THE STRAIN does almost completely take place in America, but it’s got some unusual elements.
JOHN LANDGRAF: I guess I would say I think it’s a new day every day. I’ve been doing this for twenty-five years, and having my share of successes as well as failures, and obviously thinking I might know something about what an audience would like to watch and not like to watch and being proud of having a decent batting average – I stand in humility and awe before the random forces of the process and I can honestly say that I don’t know what will work and what won’t work. And every time we step up to the plate, I think we have the chance to strike out and a chance to hit a home run. And all I know how to do, then, is pick things that I think are good with people that I think are worth working with, and work as hard as I can for them to make it as good as possible and market it, but we’re going to fail sometimes.
AX: When TERRIERS was canceled in 2010, you did something that no network head has ever done before or since, to my knowledge – you did a conference call for the press about the cancellation. Can you talk about why you haven’t done that with any other FX shows since then that have been canceled?
LANDGRAF: Well, I had that call on TERRIERS because not only did I like it, but you – collective you, the critics – really loved it and even though it had a really small audience, the audience that watched it, loved it. And so I really honestly felt the need to address myself to the people who were going to be really disappointed, as well as I was going to be disappointed. I thought about doing that with COMEDIANS, but the truth of the matter is that, while there are certain members of your group who really loved the show and I’m sure are very disappointed with my decision, collectively, you guys didn’t like the show very much, and so I thought, “Well, what am I going to get on the phone and do, just harangue you for not liking it and tell you that I really like it and still think it’s good?” We didn’t have a shared point of view about the show, which is why I didn’t do the conference call.
AX: And for those us still mourning the end of JUSTIFIED, is there anything new on the table for FX to work with series creator Graham Yost?
LANDGRAF: Besides THE AMERICANS, which he’s an executive producer on, no. But I’m having lunch with him soon. I will always try to work with Graham. It was really hard when he decided that he wanted to end [JUSTIFIED] after six years. I obviously was hoping that he would go longer, but I also really respect – look, you saw how really good that final season was.
AX: The series finale was absolutely one of the best final episodes I’ve ever seen.
LANDGRAF: Thank you. I loved it, too, and so I asked myself, would I rather have it end that way, or get another season of it and have it end less well? Well, no. I have to trust the wisdom of his judgment, and his judgment was …
AX: Because otherwise, had it gone any longer, you couldn’t have ended it like that?
LANDGRAF: That’s right.
AX: Going forward, do you think you’re leaning into more drama, more comedy, the balance it is now?
LANDGRAF: I’d say about the balance it is now. The truth of it is, it’s kind of like being underground and mining a vein of mineral. You go where the vein goes and sometimes the vein plays out. Then you’ve got to find a new place and start picking in there with your axe. I’ve had years when I thought the most interesting thing that came in front of me was comedy ideas, and I’ve had other years when I’ve thought the most interesting thing was dramas, and I’d like to think we’ll make as many comedies as we think are worth making and as many dramas as we think are worth making, and then the balance can change over time by virtue of what’s good at any given moment.
AX: With comedy, you also have the option of putting it on FXX, whereas with drama, right now, you’re just going with FX …
LANDGRAF: Yeah. I think that will change over time. So yeah, we did expand the number of comedies we were making, because we knew that over time we were going to take the comedy brand and divide it and put half of it on FXX. As FXX grows, I’d like to do something similar with drama – I’d like to be able to move things from one channel to the other on the drama side. Because I just look at them as part of the same brand, differentiated by the age focus of them. There’s more of a youthful orientation, I would say, on FXX.
AX: So is that the factor that tells you which one you’re going to put where?
LANDGRAF: Yeah. Like I wouldn’t move LOUIE, because the median age of LOUIE’s viewers is fifty, whereas the median age of ARCHER is twenty-nine.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about FX Network right now?
LANDGRAF: I would like them to know that if they come and sample our programming, they’re going to get something different than they would get anywhere else, that they might like it, they might not like it, but it’s not going to be the same-old, same-old, and you’ve got a bunch of people working here really trying to make things that are new, to add something to television and make it worth people’s while to come find our programming, to find our channels.
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Article: Exclusive Interview with FX Network CEO John Landgraf on all things FX