FX Networks and FX Productions’ CEO John Landgraf sounds very happy when he addresses the Television Critics Association in August, which isn’t surprising given what he has to say.
“In the twelve years I’ve been at FX, I don’t think we’ve ever had a better first half of a calendar year than 2016, and I know we’ve definitely never had a better traditional broadcast year than the 2015-2016 season. In addition to the four TCA and two AFI Awards, we broke out own basic cable record with fifty-six Emmy Awards.”
Landgraf credits Variety reporter Maureen Ryan with, in November, writing “an article which highlighted the woeful underrepresentation of female and nonwhite directors in television.”
Unlike some of his counterparts at other networks, Landgraf has done something about this. “I wrote a letter to all of the FX Network’s show runners – those who actually make hiring decisions [regarding] episodic television directors, asking for their help. And I am truly heartened that they all responded very positively and, with the help and support provided to them by FX’s head of current programming, Jonathan Frank and his talented team of current executives, and also by Fox Networks Group executive Nicole Bernard, who runs our parent company’s Global Directors Initiative, we made a really dramatic change.
“Since we started this initiative, we’ve booked 149 directors directors. Seventy-six of those 149, or fifty-one percent of them, are female and/or diverse … By this point, we’ve already seen many finished episodes made by these directors, so many of whom are new to FX Networks or to episodic TV, and they’ve done a fantastic job of upholding the extraordinary quality of work we’ve come to expect from our FX shows and those who run them.”
As for keeping AMERICAN HORROR STORY’s enigmatic sixth season under wraps until its premiere last week, Landgraf relates, “We decided, [executive producer] Ryan [Murphy] and Stephanie Gibbons, our massively talented head of marketing, that because every year, we’ve basically laid out the themes and the new genre that Ryan was going to be approaching, and this year, we thought it would really be fun to keep it a mystery.”
Away from the panel, Landgraf talks more about FX.
AX: So, state of the FX union. Are you happy overall with how the last year has shaken out?
JOHN LANDGRAF: Yeah. It’s a challenging business environment, but I measure the strength of the year by how good were the shows we put on the air, and [the TV critics] who watch more television than anyone gave us more acclaim and recognition than we’ve ever had, as much as any other network, and we were the only channel that AFI picked two of our shows for the ten best, so any year that that happens, from my standpoint, is a good year.
AX: With the critical, awards and public success of THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY, do you see AMERICAN CRIME STORY as being something that could go, like executive producer Ryan Murphy’s other FX anthology series AMERICAN HORROR STORY, for many seasons? You’ve announced KATRINA: AMERICAN CRIME STORY …
LANDGRAF: Yeah. There could be multiple cycles of it. I don’t know. I mean, we have to find something great to base it on every time. There may be a limit to how many amazing stories we can find, but I’m sure we can do a bunch of them.
AX: And would it always be with Ryan Murphy?
AX: Did you have any discussions with ABC over the fact that they already have a crime anthology series titled AMERICAN CRIME, which is obviously similar to AMERICAN CRIME STORY?
LANDGRAF: We never did, no. We changed the naming convention, AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM, AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN, AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL was invented by Ryan, as was the anthological miniseries, and if AMERICAN CRIME didn’t exist, we would have followed it, i.e., AMERICAN CRIME STORY: PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON. We flipped them, so it’s THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY, because we thought, for viewers, that would basically help differentiate between the two, but you would always have the name of the story or the case first.
AX: Are you happy with the way THE STRAIN is going?
LANDGRAF: Yeah. I feel the third season is going to be the best of all of the three [so far], and I really feel good about the scripts. I’m very positive about it.
AX: Are you happy with FX’s overall drama/comedy balance in your shows?
LANDGRAF: Yes, I am.
AX: Anything you’d like to change next time around?
LANDGRAF: We just always need more great shows. And good shows are relatively easy to find – great shows are very hard to find, and so I kind of measure any given year by, did we find, did we make, did we promote some great shows? And it starts almost at zero every year.
AX: You famously said that there’s too much television for any one person to watch. How many shows can you personally watch, or are you watching?
LANDGRAF: Well, [with FX Networks’] shows, I’m close to the limit. That may be the most I can watch. I might be able to do one or two more, but I just can’t read or watch any more television. Of course, I watch less of my competitors’ television than I would like, given that there’s such good television, because I have to watch so much of our own. So I’m probably there. I don’t know that a brand where one person is trying to pay attention to every episode of every show can really grow much beyond about twenty shows.
AX: And do you have any gratification about uttering what’s probably the most quoted and paraphrased line in recent memory about the quantity of television?
LANDGRAF: Oh, I don’t know. I just try to tell the truth, and I guess sometimes that resonates, and people feel it valid or important, and sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t feel like I own “too much television.” You notice, I didn’t lead with it this time. I’m not trying to own that. It just happened to be a moment when what I had to say caught fire.
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Article: Exclusive Interview with FX CEO John Landgraf