TCA 2012: FX's John Landgraf Calls Out Netflix, Bashes Rivals and Admits Fighting with Showrunners
In typically honest and unvarnished fashion, FX Networks president and general manager John Landgraf fired a broadside at streaming services (specifically Netflix), admitted that he had “knock down drag out fights” with Ryan Murphy over Nip/Tuck and questioned the bidding frenzy that drives up prices for off-net series.
With more players getting into original content business including Netflix, which has Lilyhammer and the David Fincher-Kevin Spacey drama House of Cards and a reboot of cult fave Arrested Development ramping up, Landgraf respectfully suggested that Netflix release “apples to apples” ratings for their streaming programs.
Netflix has declined to release viewer data for Lilyhammer, which became available to its 28 million customers last February. But many digital destinations tout numbers that measure every user who samples a program even if it's only for a couple minutes. TV ratings provided by Nielsen are based on the average audience for an entire episode.
“To say that 20 million users sampled something tells me nothing. They may have watched 30 seconds of it,” Landgraf told media reporters on Saturday morning.
Streaming services like Netflix are not measured by Nielsen’s people meters.
“They have more data than we do,” said Landgraf. “They can absolutely release data to you that allows for an apples to apples comparison. If you gave me a one-minute qualifier, I could tell you that 25 million people watched Anger Management.”
While newcomers including Netflix, AOL and YouTube are in the early throes of the original programming business, FX announced a fourth season of Louie, an additional seven episodes of Brand X with Russell Brand and is optimistic about a renewal for Wilfred and the back-90 order of Anger Management. Landgraf envisions a long run for Wilfred and thinks Justified will likely have a “minimum” of six seasons on FX.
But he noted that of the two billion hours of viewership each year on the network only 400 million hours was based on original programming. And the network depends on off-net shows and blockbuster movies to fill out its schedule and expose viewers to its original series. And he noted that FX needs the broadcast business to stay healthy to continue to fuel the television ecosystem. FX airs reruns of Two And a Half Men and recently picked up cable rights to Mike & Molly. Landgraf said he would have liked to buy The Big Bang Theory, New Girl or Modern Family, but for the “absolutely astronomical” cost of those shows in a rather dry syndie market.
“We’re concerned about the volume of off-net series that are coming out,” he said. “We want to be a little bit more master of our own fate rather than being in this crazy scrum with USA and Turner and others bidding up the prices of those things.”
The network will continue to take a disciplined approach to its original series business and that includes careful consideration when renewing series.
"We’re just very cautious," said Landgraf, adding that he considers announcing series pickups before a premiere or after one episode (a common tactic at HBO) is "chest pounding gamesmanship."
"I just don’t think that’s the way to run your business and that’s not how we run our business," he said.
Despite a growing slate of original programming in primetime and late-night, Landgraf sill reads every script and watches all rough cuts. And while he errs on the side of less interference rather than more, he has been in some heated discussions with his showrunners including Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy. “I had big fights with Ryan Murphy,” recalled Landgraf, adding that he will overrule his creators “if there’s something that I think is clearly so offensive.”
And he said he did not want to become “the poster child for defending [Rescue Me creators] Denis Leary and Peter Tolan’s rape scene” in a 2006 episode of the series. “I had massive fights with those guys over that scene. Seven years on now I might actually put my foot down and overrule them.”
He also admits that he interfered on the "God" episode of Louie.
"The original episode had some material that probably would have been offensive to Catholics," said Landgraf. "We just have this inherent notion of letting people make their shows."
Louis CK said that any notes he gets from the network's standards executives have been helpful in keeping him from becoming a target. But his interactions with the network watchdogs are rare.
"I'm kind of like a dog with the shock collar," he said. "I know where the fence is."
Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com; Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie