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Taking a break from his semiannual State of the Industry speech, John Landgraf instead used his Thursday morning appearance in front of TV critics to focus on his own stable.
The FX Networks CEO has developed a reputation for often setting the course of TV discussion at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour, with his fondness for PowerPoint presentations helping shape the dialogue around the notion of “Peak TV” — this strange world where U.S. scripted output hit 455 original series last year.
“I had said, I think when I first labeled ‘Peak TV,’ that this year would be the peak year,” said Landgraf, briefly mentioning the scripted surge before moving on to his own programming. “I was obviously wrong. There will be more series next year than this year.”
Joined by lieutenants Nick Grad and Eric Schrier, Landgraf talked about their own evolving model — one that has put prestige ahead of linear ratings, aided by their shrinking reliance on advertising. The CEO noted that advertising accounted for half of FX revenue when he joined. Today, it’s just 35 percent.
When the trio opened it up to questions, many focused on Ryan Murphy. He may only produce 17 percent of the original output on FX Networks, but his series counted for a much bigger portion of the Thursday conversation. Future plans for American Crime Story (no Lady Gaga, by the way), American Horror Story and Feud dominated much of the panel, with Landgraf offering some details on when viewers will be seeing more from each of them.
There also were updates on Fargo, the network’s growing presence at awards shows and efforts to beef up diversity at every level of creative.
No American Crime Story for 2017
Confirming what many have suggested for a while, American Crime Story: Katrina won’t premiere until roughly two years after its zeitgeist-ing predecessor, The People v. O.J. Simpson. In fact, production schedules will make it such that the third Crime Story, which will tell the story of designer Gianni Versace’s infamous 1997 murder, will premiere very quickly on Katrina’s heels. “They’re going to have a long hiatus, and then we’re going to get back on cycle,” said Landgraf. “They’re going to air within, like, six months of each other.” The immediate hold-up for Katrina, per the exec, is the limited time when it is possible to shoot in New Orleans, which is difficult to insure during hurricane season. Lack of enthusiasm is not to blame for the delay. “It’s not a lurid true-crime series,” he said. “We have really high ambitions for this franchise.” (Speaking of Crime Story, Murphy told reporters later on Thursday morning that Lady Gaga will not be tackling the role of Donatella Versace, as some had suggested.)
The Evolution of Ryan Murphy (and AHS)
Landgraf stepped into his role at FX when Murphy’s first cable jaunt, Nip/Tuck, was well into its run. Now that the network has three franchises from the TV auteur, Landgraf said that their relationship with the 51-year-old showrunner is strong. “Ryan was always pushing it, and I think a lot of you thought that was his main raison d’etre,” he said. “We’ve grown up with him and he’s grown up with us.” There is also a great deal of trust in their creative relationship, one reason why FX announced formal plans for additional two seasons for American Horror Story — on top of the already greenlighted seventh cycle. As for that cycle, there were no hints as to the next theme in the anthology, and marketing will likely be as vague as it was for the mystery sixth run. “We know explicitly what the next season is about, but we don’t know what the eighth and ninth are,” said Landgraf. “Ryan made a commitment that he will continue to run that show.”
FXX Is Still a “Work in Progress”…
With the move of popular animated series Archer to comedy-centric sibling FXX, one reporter asked if the identity of the spinoff channel has been solidified. The answer? Kind of. “It has exceeded all expectations,” said Landgraf, pointing to the fact that FXX now reaches 85 million homes (compared to FX’s 91 million). “And its identity, I think, has been solidifying since we launched the channel. But I think it’s still a work in progress. It’s not fully baked yet. We have other initiatives that are designed to build FXX as a sub-brand in the networks.” But just because work remains, does not mean they are not pleased. Landgraf joked that execs were less than optimistic when the idea of the network was first born: “When it was suggested to us that we might want to start another network, we thought it was a suicide mission.”
….and So Is the Push for Inclusivity
Speaking of works in progress, the same answer was given when another reporter asked for an update on Landgraf’s push to put fewer white men behind the camera. “I’m not going to tell you the world is just now,” he said, a pie chart popping up over his shoulder to illustrate that more than half (narrowly) of director jobs for current FX series are now going to women and people of color. “We’re going to keep going until everything about our channel is fair and better reflects the diversity of the country we live in and is not as skewed, as the rest of our industry is, to heterosexual white males.”
Emmys Are Great, But They Won’t Dictate Scheduling
After last year’s Emmys, many thought that Fargo would have performed better if it hadn’t gone up against another FX anthology, American Crime Story. The idea of awards cannibalization, however frustrating, won’t be swaying the rollout plan anytime soon. “We’re not leaving them on the shelf,” said Grad. Of the crowded field, Landgraf added, “You used to think you could game the Emmys by putting a show in the limited category instead of drama. Now you can game by putting it in drama instead of limited.”
And speaking of Fargo, Landgraf offered that it has resumed production and will likely premiere in late April.
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