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FX's John Landgraf on FXX, Netflix and the End of the 'Nuclear Arms Race of Darkness'

The network topper notes during his turn before the TCA that while he'd like to see Netflix release its ratings, he can't force the service to since he isn't "the mayor of television."

FX John Landgraf TCA - H 2013
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John Landgraf

FX Networks CEO John Landgraf graced the stage Friday for his semiannual appearance before the press.

But rather than devote much of his Television Critics Association summer press tour panel to the landscape’s opportunities and challenges as he has in tour’s past, Landgraf focused much of his discussion on the forthcoming launch of younger-skewing network FXX.

The veteran exec suggested his team’s decision to fan out with a suite of networks -- FX, FXX and FXM -- was not only opportunistic but also necessary. “We’ve been punching above our weight for a long time,” he told reporters, adding: “We realized that we were going to have to try to grow into a heavyweight if we want to be a top brand in a very competitive future.”

The goal over the next couple of years is to move from 13 original series to 25, which Landgraf noted was more in line with a broadcast network. Still, the decision to separate the nets by age and demography was an acknowledgement, he said, that it is a real challenge for a net to be “all things to all people.” For that reason, FXX will try to lure a younger demo with “a kind of analog, do-it-yourself” feel to the brand and perhaps more of a Comedy Central skew to the programming.

The choice to have his different networks look, sound and feel similar brand-wise was a conscious one to help his audience make the connection the way people do for HBO’s collection of networks. Landgraf noted that doing so will be particularly valuable since he hopes his viewers will move from FXX to FX to FXM as they -- and their tastes -- mature. By contrast, he suggested that viewers of IFC, WE tv and AMC are not as aware that those networks all live within the AMC Networks portfolio.

In addition to the upcoming network shakeup, Landgraf addressed such topics as the evolving antihero, new models and the frustration and success of Netflix. Here are the highlights:

Netflix's Foray

Landgraf was a vocal detractor of Netflix -- specifically, its decision not to report ratings -- before any of his peers, railing against the streaming service during a press tour stop in January. This time around, he was more muted than many of the execs who have graced the stage in recent days, noting that there is nothing he or the press can do about Netflix’s choice to play a different game. “If I were the mayor of TV, I think all competitive industries should have verified, third-party info,” he explained, before noting: “But I’m not the mayor of television.” As for the programming that Netflix has released thus far, the FX boss had nothing but kind words to share, suggesting the fact that its first drama, House of Cards, elbowed its way into the particularly competitive best drama Emmy category should be commended. He added: “I don’t know who is watching their shows, but I know that they’re good.”

How Dark Can You Go?

“I can’t imagine a protagonist darker than Walter White [of Breaking Bad]. I think that’s the end of the road for out-darking each other,” Landgraf said of the cable space’s decade-long love affair with the exceedingly dark antihero, be it Tony Soprano, The Shield’s Vic Mackey or White. Echoing a sentiment Showtime entertainment president David Nevins shared earlier in the week, Landgraf suggested that his network is instead moving back to the middle with series like Justified. He added: “This nuclear arms race of darkness has ended.”

Throw Out the Form

Rather than stress the ability to attract top-shelf talent as some of his peers have done in discussing limited series, Landgraf highlighted the freedoms of the genre in speaking about its appeal. While he still believes in the seven-season series business, or “90-hour movies” as he often dubs his longer-running shows, he feels there is an opportunity to tell stories that are not constrained to a traditional format -- and that can mean limited series like FX’s forthcoming Billy Bob Thornton starrer Fargo, or a three-to-five-season show a la Guillermo del Toro's likely effort The Strain. As Landgraf looks ahead, he has tasked his team with thinking about the medium with a different mindset: “What if a TV show can be just the length that is optimal for that story?” He used the TCA platform to praise one of his series stars, Louis C.K., for “getting away from any orthodoxy” with his comedy, noting that his decision to embrace this idea that his show “can be anything” is among the reasons it is as strong as it is.

E-mail: Lacey.Rose@THR.com
Twitter: @LaceyVRose