FX Faces Creative Conundrum as Top Shows Sit Out 2019

FX_Comp - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of FX

Heading into 2019, FX CEO John Landgraf was prepared for a challenging year. Then, a few days after returning to work from the holiday break, he saw the first footage from his upcoming Fosse/Verdon limited series starring Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams. "It's going to be one of the best shows of the year," Landgraf boasted to The Hollywood Reporter on Feb. 4. (The show is due in April).

Given FX's 2019 slate, there is big pressure for Fosse/Verdon — as well as the Alex Garland limited series Devs and the comedy What We Do in the Shadows — to cut through the clutter. After bidding farewell to The Americans after six seasons, FX will endure 2019 without critical hits Atlanta, American Crime Story and Fargo. Highly anticipated comic book drama Y: The Last Man and the Cate Blanchett starrer Mrs. America — and the Chris Rock-led fourth season of Fargo — won't arrive until 2020. (And Feud is not expected to return anytime soon as creator Ryan Murphy lacks a premise for the previously announced second season.)

"The nature of this business is that it's a very perishable thing and there's constant pressure to cycle through new stuff. And it's always difficult," Landgraf added. "[Being creator-friendly] is a double-edged sword: It's both something that limits our ability to impose schedules on people and it's a critical component of why so many of the shows and seasons are so good."

While it's becoming increasingly common for some of TV's biggest hits to skip a year (see HBO's Game of Thrones and Westworld and Netflix's Stranger Things), the missing tentpoles come as FX is in a transitional period. The cable network is among the assets poised to move to Disney as part of Fox's $71.3 billion sale. Landgraf, who will remain in charge of the basic cable network, is expecting a cash infusion to help FX compete with rivals like HBO (which is increasing its originals under new parent AT&T) and billion-dollar spenders Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

Under Disney, Landgraf hopes to double the number of scripted original series (from 14 in 2018 to possibly 28) in three to five years while also aggressively building an unscripted slate of anywhere from eight to 12 shows. (Landgraf says 28 is the most scripted series he envisions for his network.) He also wants to lead FX into other genres to compete in additional Emmy categories (and better navigate a show like Donald Glover's Atlanta being off for a year). Those potential Emmy bets include The Weekly, a narrative documentary news program co-produced with The New York Times.

"I don't know what will happen this year, but how much would it really matter if we had a year when we fell back a little bit in the [Emmy] pack?" added Landgraf. "What I'd be worried about is if I thought that ultimately we were not constituted to be competitive in the long run."

This story also appears in the Feb. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.