As FX turns 20, fifteen of TV’s top scribes — from Rescue Me’s Denis Leary to Louie’s Louis C.K. — reveal what it’s like to write for a network that encourages smart TV (almost) without rules as part of a series that The Hollywood Reporter is rolling out this week. This story first appeared in the May 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
LEARY: When Peter and I created Rescue Me, we knew from the start the only possible home for it was FX. As much as the network had issues with Peter, they were always respectful and collaborative with me. [FX president] John Landgraf and his team were constantly supportive, and John’s notes were always well thought out and helpful, which is incredibly rare in television. I remember talking with John at one of our premiere events in New York; the two of us stood alone on a balcony looking out over the city, and John told me his involvement in Rescue Me was — and would remain — one of his career highlights. We ended the conversation with a warm hug. When I look back on my time at FX, two things keep coming back to me: the talk John and I had that night, and the fact that Peter Tolan is now gay.
TOLAN: When Denis and I created Rescue Me, we really wanted it on HBO. They weren’t interested. So we went to Showtime. — no sale. Same thing at Starz, AMC, TBS and Animal Planet. Getting turned down that many times was difficult, but Animal Planet? Seriously? That f—ing hurt. So we ended up at FX. As much as the network had issues with Denis, they were always respectful and collaborative with me. They even paid me more than Denis, which he never knew! John Landgraf and his team were constantly supportive — when you could get them on the phone. Tiny little network; they couldn’t answer a call? How busy could they be? Jesus! I remember something that happened at one of our premiere events in New York: John and Denis were talking out on a balcony. Something got said; they both went crazy. Landgraf’s screaming and starts swinging at Leary (he’s small, but he’s got a good reach). Leary grabs John and makes like he’s going to throw him off the side of the building! I rush out and talk them down, and pretty soon they hug and everyone’s friends again. When I look back on my time at FX, two things keep coming back to me: If I hadn’t saved John’s life that night, FX would now be in the shitter — and, yes, I’m gay.
[In 2012, openly gay Michael Patrick King appeared to out Tolan at a Hollywood Radio & Television Society panel, saying that they were “both straight” when they first met a long time ago. While some in the industry knew Tolan was gay, many in the audience were confused and didn’t know what to make of it. According to reports, Tolan replied to King with a faux outrage: “How dare you out me in front of these people? By the way Michael, I have not come out in a big way. My [concern was that] suicidal teens would say, that’s getting better?”]
Denis Leary and Peter Tolan were the creators/executive producers of Rescue Me, which aired from 2004 to 2011.