FX Chief Calls Ryan Murphy's 'American Horror Story' a Potential 'Breakthrough'

John Landgraf TCA - 2011

John Langraf discussed reinventing the cop genre with “Powers” and the future of the network on Saturday morning at TCA.

FX chief John Landgraf trotted out on stage Saturday morning for his semi-annual stop before the television press corps.

This time around, the veteran executive had his own news to share. In addition to renewing three of FX’s shows – Wilfred, Louie and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia — his own contract to remain as president and general manager was renewed for three years. The remainder of Landgraf’s 45-minute session before the Television Critics Association focused on what’s next for the male-skewing network, which currently airs 10 original series with ambitions to add two more comedies. 

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Despite high profile cancellations of recent dramas, Terriers and Lights Out, Landgraf waxed on about how pleased he is with how FX is currently positioned. Thus far this year, the network is garnering its highest ratings by all metrics in the network’s 17 year history. Year over year, the net's prime time lineup is up 17 percent in the coveted 18 to 49 demographic and 18 percent in total viewers.

But Landgraf’s preferred definition of leadership in the current television landscape is neither ratings nor Emmy nominations, which would put networks like USA, TNT or HBO before his; Instead, he likes to define it as the willingness to experiment.

“My most treasured definition of leadership is who would steer their ship into unchartered waters,” he said, adding, “I think where FX has been exemplary from even before I was at the channel was the willingness to try new things. They haven’t always worked but they’ve made television a more execiting place to be."

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He's confident that newcomer American Horror Story, a chilling horror thriller by Glee's Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, will fit that bill. He goes as far as to call it a potentially "break through commercial piece of television that’s going to be imitated widely if people find it." While the series will have a longer serialized arc that will run over what Landgraf hopes is multiple seasons, he assured the roomful of reporters that each season will have a beginning, middle and end. 

Landgraf has another two to three months before he has to decide whether he'll pick up either or both crime drama Outlaw Country or superhero cop drama Powers. He described the latter, which is based on a popular graphic novel, as a gritty, edgy, dark cop drama with superhero elements to it. To hear him tell it, Powers would give the network the opportunity to do reinvent the cop genre -- one that he's shied away from because the bar had been so raised by an earlier FX effort, The Shield -- as well as the superhero genre.

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Though superheroes have dominated the film space, he argued there's a certain limitation to what you can do in two or two and a half hours. "Everything TV has ever done in that genre is the equivalent of an 8 or 9 o'clock show, meaning light, breezy and special effects oriented," Landgraf said. "No one has ever done a show that aspires to be a serious drama, and it's fascinating to me to try to reshape and reinvent a familiar genre."

Similarly appealing, superheroes -- like horror -- are particularly noisy in concept, another necessity to cut through the clutter in today's crowded landscape, noted Landgraf, who added that it's incredibly hard to have the broad audience even know a new original series exists, much less tune in week after week.

"What FX has always been trying to do from the very beginning is take ... populist entertainment and literature and find a place where those two things overlap," he said, "rather than being literary and making things for an elite audience or being patronizing and frankly making lowest common denominator broad entertainment."

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