FXX Execs on Launching a Network and How to Pitch: 'Don't Use the Word 'Edgy'' (Q&A)
THR: You're asking people to find a new channel on an already crowded dial. I imagine you'll have to adjust your ratings expectations. How will you assess success and failure?
Schrier: I don't think we know yet. There are a lot of things that go into how we evaluate our shows, outside of just ratings, and we're very clear that they're not going to perform how they perform on FX. It's a long-term play.
THR: Like many other networks, you're pushing into the limited-series business, beginning with Fargo. Why?
Schrier: There are a number of reasons why we got into it, but from a creative standpoint, we hear pitches for 90-hour movies -- long character journeys. There were a lot of pitches that came in that were really good but didn't make sense for that format; they were much better as six-, eight-, 10-part stories. We also found that there were a lot of people who were really talented who didn't want to sign on to do seven years of a television show but had stories that they couldn't tell in the independent-film world or the feature-film world, where there was a lack of quality adult movies.
Grad: I think some shows probably stay on the air too long because they think they are fitting into a business model. We're trying to find out what the right format is for the idea.
THR: You've said you're interested in building out your late-night programming. Who would be the dream addition to your late-night lineup?
Grad: I'll tell you, I think the two best interviewers in the business right now are Howard Stern and Marc Maron. I spend a lot of my time in my car listening either to Howard or to Maron's WTF podcast. Who knows if it would translate because I think part of what allows them to have such great interviews is the length. [In late-night], there's not enough time [for guests] to let their guard down.
THR: You've pushed hard to own programming. How has that affected your relationships with other studios, and have you lost projects as a result?
Schrier: We don't make decisions about what's the right show to put on the air based on our ownership stake. But I do think having ownership helps us make the shows more successful. It makes us much more involved, not only creatively but from a business standpoint. Because there are multiple revenue streams coming in, we're able to keep a show like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia on the air longer than we would if we were just a network. It took three years for Sunny to really take off. Sons of Anarchy is another one: It's grown every year it's been on, and it still sells tremendously well on DVD. We run spots for the DVD every week on the show. We started a licensing and merchandising business on that show; we're talking to [creator] Kurt Sutter about doing a video game.
THR: As the landscape becomes more competitive, will you look to secure more talent through overall or first-look deals?
Grad: We're still mostly a network. The studio is really important, but we don't have the desire to compete with major studios that can service all these deals.
Schrier: We don't have the aspirations to be a studio that sells to other networks. We're focused on putting on great shows on the FX networks, and if [Fox] has a limited series that they want us to help them with, we will. But we're not looking to go pitch something to CBS or NBC.
THR: What was your big break?
Grad: When I was in high school, I was a P.A. on Cheers [which Burrows co-created], then I had an internship on the first season of L.A. Law. But my first real job was at Fox Broadcasting; my unofficial title was tape bitch.
Schrier: My grandfather was the secretary of MCA and my father was an agent, so I grew up around it. My dad used to take me to tapings, and when the fall season came out he'd want me to watch all the shows with him and tell him what I thought. My first job out of college [at USC] was at CAA. I was a floater in the mornings, which is basically a temp, and then I was a second assistant to Josh Lieberman in the afternoons. I remember he had signed Colin Farrell, who was an unknown at the time, and he was like: "Eric, Colin's coming out here. Call the casting directors and set up meetings." And then he's like, "He doesn't know how to get around, so find one of your friends and have one of them drive him around." I found one of my friends from high school to drive him around. He ended up having a lot of fun with Colin Farrell for a number of weeks. It was a great experience, and now all of these agents whose phones I answered at one point come in and pitch me shows.