FX Chief: Blame Guns for Violence, Not TV Shows

John Landgraf
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

"I believe in redemption."

FX is home to some of the most graphically violent television programs on ad-supported cable. With Sons of Anarchy and with its antecedent The Shield, the network has pushed the envelope with operatic violence and depravity. The just-concluded fifth season of Sons, for example, featured a young woman being burned alive in a pit and an inmate biting off his tongue -- and then spitting it out onto the interview-room window.

But FX president and GM John Landgraf pointed to the country’s permissive attitude toward guns, especially semi-automatic weapons that can accommodate dozens of rounds of ammunition, as a possibly having a correlation with the disturbing rash of mass shootings.

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“I am someone who believes very strongly in the First Amendment and the Second Amendment,” Landgraf told reporters gathered for FX’s executive session at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena. “Last time I checked, a handgun that has a five- or six-bullet clip is perfectly adequate [for protecting your home].”

Referring to the Aurora, Colo. movie-theater shooting in July that left 12 dead and 58 wounded, he added: “You certainly can’t create that kind of mayhem if you have to reload. We should look at ourselves. But we should also look at [gun laws] which allow a crazy person to create an untold amount of mayhem."

Landgraf pointed to the fraction of gun deaths in England, where consumers have access to the same entertainment but not semi-automatic weapons. That said, Landgraf admitted that he does not let his sons -- who are 15, 12 and 9 -- play violent video games. And he suggested the entertainment industry should study whether there is a link between depictions of violence and real-world violence.  

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All of FX’s TV-MA rated programs have very deliberately been scheduled in the 10 p.m. time period, and Landgraf pointed out that a fraction of that audience (less than 5 percent) for shows including Sons of Anarchy and American Horror Story are younger than 18.

The horrific Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Conn., has spurred a nationwide conversation about gun control and violence in society. And it has become a theme at the semi-annual press tour. Certainly, television creators including Sons' Kurt Sutter and Horror Story’s Ryan Murphy have perfected depictions of baroque violence. And AMC’s The Walking Dead, the top-rated program on cable, features a weekly body count that rivals some war zones.

The intensity of these cable dramas, which also include HBO’s True Blood and Game of Thrones and Showtime’s Dexter, has attracted a younger (and more male) audience than their broadcast counterparts, which skew older and female. That the aforementioned top-rated dramas on cable all include vivid depictions of violence -- and now at least one broadcast network, Fox,, is attempting to compete on that playing field with The Following -- underscores viewers' appetite for such shows, said Landgraf.

“You could say they’re violent,” he said. “I would say they’re about life-or-death stakes. And let’s not kid ourselves: That will always be the most compelling [television] for us to watch, because we fear death."

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It’s also harder for cable to compete with broadcast television for older viewers. “We get much tougher completion when we try to go after that audience,” said Landgraf.

But FX will try to do just that with the upcoming Cold War-set Graham Yost drama The Americans, about husband-and-wife Soviet agents in the U.S. during the 1980s.

The Americans is significantly less violent than American Horror Story," he said. "It is ultimately a show about a marriage. It is not tailored in the way The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy are to appeal specifically to people in their 20s."

Chris Rock took the dais at the Langham Huntington hotel immediately after Landgraf with W. Kamau Bell in support of the late-night program Totally Biased. And Rock, who is the executive producer of Bell's show, had a suggestion for stanching the violence.

“Every mass shooting is done by a guy who lives with his mother,” said Rock. “I honestly believe you should have to have a mortgage to buy a gun. No one with a mortgage has ever gone on a killing spree. A mortgage is a real background check. And you know, if you go to jail for 30 years, you still have to pay your f---ing mortgage."

Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com; Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie