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FX chairman John Landgraf on Tuesday came to his bi-annual Television Critics Association’s press tour appearance armed with some news: FX has found the next iteration of Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story, and it will be a project previously floated: Impeachment, the saga of the Clinton presidency scandal.
During his 45 minutes in front of reporters and critics, the exec also touched on the impending streaming wars, the network’s lackluster Emmy nominations standing and the growing importance of FX’s brand in a crowded landscape — but the room full of press seemed most interested in questions about American Crime Story.
With Landgraf in the hot seat, one reporter in the audience raised a question about his decision to air Impeachment shortly before the 2020 presidential election. The timing had already been drawing backlash online from critics including New York Magazine writer Mark Harris, who tweeted that airing the series during the final six weeks of the upcoming U.S. presidential election was “an abysmal idea” and that “there is nothing that Trump would like more than to turn the homestretch of 2020 into a revisitation of the Clintons.”
“People are going to be very interested in this right around the presidential election and it’s going to be a great show,” Langraf responded initially, though the brief answer didn’t appease the critics on hand. Minutes later, another reporter raised the question again, this time specifically pressing Landgraf on whether he believes that the upcoming cycle of American Crime Story wouldn’t influence people at the polls the way some critics were concerned it might.
“Let me just say something about the current environment,” said the executive. “So this person knows what the show is, knows how the audience is going to respond to it, knows how it’s going to impact history, right? This certainty that says, ‘We can’t have conversations, we can’t make art, we can’t have nuance, I won’t even wait to pronounce judgment on it,’ is toxic in the media environment.”
Langraf went on to note that he “believes very, very strongly” in the project. “I’ve read it, I think it’s great. I don’t believe it’s going to determine who is the next president of the United States,” he said. Of the notion that it could influence 2020 election results, the exec added, “I think that’s a little hysterical, from my standpoint.”
The point of the series, which Monica Lewinsky is joining as a producer, is to be revisionist history, noted Landgraf. “We look at moments in time that involve crimes that can be looked at with much more nuance and more complexity in the fullness of time,” he explained. “And I feel completely unabashed about my pride for American Crime Story and my belief that this is a completely valid cycle of American Crime Story.”
Landgraf also took subtle digs at free-spending streamer Netflix — noting FX will continue to curate its brand — while addressing plans to further expand scripted and unscripted originals. He also noted that his network faced a “big hurdle” at the Emmys this year without The Americans (which ended) and new seasons of American Crime Story and Atlanta.
Here are other highlights from Landgraf’s TCA remarks:
• About FX’s content expansion plans … Landgraf stressed FX will continue to increase its output but would “remain measured” in its approach. “Some move fast … and that seems like a good strategy,” he said in a subtle dig at Netflix and its volume business, “but for FX, that’s never worked; that’s not our philosophy. We’re at our best when we move deliberately and focus on our brand while providing every one of our creators a level of personal attention.” Pointing out that this was FX’s first TCA as part of the Disney fold, the exec noted that the outlook was matched the culture at his new parent company. “As we enter new era at Disney, we’re cranking up the creative engines to a higher level than ever before,” Landgraf said. He pointed to the deep roster of creators and executives that Disney has in its fold after acquiring Fox’s TV studios. “The new structure … allows FX to have unparalleled access to great creative talent,” he said. “And [that’s] how we maintain quality and focus as we’re scaling up.”
• About that brand filter … After running through an impressive roster of star-studded scripted originals that includes Cate Blanchett limited series Mrs. America, A Teacher, The Old Man and the highly anticipated take on Y: The Last Man, Landgraf said every single show on his network has gone through what he called the “FX curatorial filter” as he again stressed the importance of building brands in a cluttered landscape. “Every show will be one of quality and brand specificity,” Landgraf added. Pointing to FX’s new docuseries slate, the exec stressed that FX will become a “more valuable brand” and “one of the most original programmers in the originals business.” Landgraf singled out Amazon’s Emmy-nominated comedy Fleabag as an example of quality programming that is able to rise above the clutter and compared finding quality originals to separating fact from fiction in journalism. “There’s a lot of really good stuff that gets swamped by volume,” he said. “Facts get overwhelmed with fiction; quality gets overwhelmed with mediocrity. How do you find quality?” he noted. “Our reels don’t become more generic over time but less generic. We’re much more focused and specific and trying to help the audience cut down the morass of the infinite number of programs.”
• About those (declining) Emmy nominations … Landgraf acknowledged he knew FX would have a “challenging” year when it came to awards season without American Crime Story and Atlanta (both of which were on hiatus). Those two shows accounted for 33 of FX’s 50 Emmy nominations a year ago. The exec pointed out that the rookies Pose and What We Do in the Shadows and the limited series Fosse/Verdon helped get the network over that “big hurdle.” Those three new series accounted for 25 of those missing 33 nominations. “We take that as a big win,” he said. (Both Pose and What We Do in the Shadows are ongoing series that have already been renewed for additional seasons.)
• Peak TV update … Landgraf said the current tally of scripted originals sits at 335 through June — up 5 percent year-over-year. If that pace holds, the tally would grow to 520 for 2019 — a new record (which would be up from 495 last year).
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