FX CEO John Landgraf doesn’t see Disney’s decision to move some of FX’s scripted originals to Hulu as a loss for his linear network. Instead, he called the March launch of an “FX on Hulu” tab on the streamer a “transformative opportunity” for his brand.
The executive, dubbed the “Mayor of Television” for his insights into the state of the industry, held court Thursday morning at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour, where he made his first public remarks about the move of high-profile shows, including Cate Blanchett’s Mrs. America, to Disney-owned streamer Hulu.
“Hulu will be the most comprehensive streaming service for FX content,” Landgraf told the assembled press corps, noting that he sees Hulu’s 30 million subscribers as a way to expand FX’s reach.
FX and Hulu in November announced that the streamer would create a hub for the linear network on its service. Sources at the time noted the channel would be similar to how Disney+ uses Marvel and Lucasfilm/Star Wars.
The FX on Hulu arrangement will debut in March with Alex Garland’s Devs, followed by Mrs. America (April 15), with A Teacher and The Old Man still awaiting scheduling. Sources previously told The Hollywood Reporter that a third of Hulu’s scripted originals will be supplied by FX in 2020 and 2021. In addition to originals, much of FX’s library — including newly renewed American Horror Story — will also have a home on Hulu.
The move should be seen as Disney’s efforts to prioritize streaming, specifically on the company’s $13 a month bundle that consists of Hulu, Disney+ and ESPN as it, like other media conglomerates, shifts focus away from linear networks amid dwindling ratings and consumers pivoting to digital.
Reiterating his long-standing belief that “brands matter,” Landgraf used his nearly hourlong presentation to praise Disney CEO Bob Iger for bringing together all the conglomerate’s key brands — like Pixar and Marvel — with Disney’s positioning of the recently launched streamer Disney+. “Bringing the past, present and future together all in one place on Disney+ has instantly made it one of the most impressive streaming services — as proven by the public’s extraordinary response on Day 1,” he said.
The executive noted the FX on Hulu partnership would help provide scale without impacting FX’s carefully curated brand that allows creatives like Noah Hawley (Fargo) and Donald Glover (Atlanta) to take the time they need to juggle other projects as well as plot out new seasons of their awards darlings. “It takes a lot of volume to create a must-have streaming platform,” Landgraf said. “Disney married value with quality.”
The exec sees the Hulu arrangement as a way to grow FX’s brand and reach new, cord-cutting viewers, while at the same time keeping the linear channels (including younger-skewing sibling FXX) “robust and valued.” The linear networks, he said, will continue to be crucial to growing FX’s brand.
“We hit a ceiling because basic cable can’t go beyond its own ceiling,” Landgraf remarked. “Even though we’re in 85 million homes, it’s not growing in terms of usage and expansion. FX on Hulu allows us to aggregate the strength of linear channels with a new 30 million homes. I think it will make the FX brand more valuable, [as it will] penetrate deeper into American culture.”
Here are other highlights from Landgraf’s time before the press:
Will Hulu Release Ratings?
Considering Landgraf has repeatedly called out Netflix for its lack of transparency when it comes to providing viewership data, it was only fair that he’d face a question during his time in the hot seat about his own plans to release ratings for the FX shows that will air on Hulu. “That’s not my decision,” he said, explaining that what Hulu chooses to do with its data externally is up to its CEO, Randy Freer, and his boss, Disney’s direct-to-consumer chief Kevin Mayer. Landgraf noted that Nielsen is, of course, starting to measure viewership on streaming services, which means that the OTT companies will have to contend with that kind of third-party data being released to the public. “Personally, I’m in favor of transparency,” he added. “I’ve always felt my entire life that if the judges are fair and if the court system is fair, I feel really good about our chances of doing well in a system like that.”
Peak TV Update
Landgraf, who coined the term “Peak TV” at TCA a few years ago, revealed that scripted originals set yet another record last year. U.S. scripted originals — comedy, drama and limited series — totaled 532 in 2019, up 7 percent from 2018. That topped last year’s 495 tally, which was the year of the slowest growth in scripted in almost a decade (1.6 percent). Landgraf reiterated that his research team would no longer break out data by distributors, calling that an “antiquated mode of division.” As for growth projections, the exec thinks the upward trend will continue in 2020, which will see the launch of streaming services from NBCUniversal (Peacock) and WarnerMedia (HBO Max). “Given that the streaming wars are now at hand, that total will increase substantially this year,” Landgraf said, “which to me is just bananas.”
The first question lobbed at the FX chief was whether the network’s next iteration of American Crime Story — Impeachment, which will tell the story of former President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky — will indeed air during the 2020 presidential election as the executive had stated at last year’s press tour. Landgraf revealed that the project has actually been delayed due to creator Ryan Murphy’s packed schedule. The showrunner is caught up with his Netflix’s adaptation of The Prom and won’t be able to start filming Impeachment until March 21, which will make the original Sept. 27 airdate “unreasonable,” said Landgraf. When asked whether the backlash the network faced for scheduling the show weeks ahead of the country’s election and therefore potentially influencing the results factored into the decision to delay — a concern Landgraf has shot down as “a little hysterical” — the exec was adamant it was only about Murphy’s schedule: “The fact that we won’t be done in September was determined by Ryan’s availability.”
Atlanta, which last aired in May 2018, will not return for its third season until January 2021. It will consist of 10 episodes, with season four having eight installments and will shoot back-to-back. The plan, Landgraf explained, is for season four to air in fall 2021. (The exec revealed creator and star Donald Glover’s initial plan was to produce 16 total episodes and split them in two.) That will take Atlanta out of this year’s Emmy contention, but it will be eligible for both the 2021 and 2022 ceremonies. “Some of our best shows didn’t air [in 2019],” Landgraf noted, citing Atlanta as well as Fargo and American Crime Story. But he again emphasized FX’s commitment to being an artist-friendly network. As for how much longer Atlanta will go beyond its two upcoming seasons, the exec said he’d make the show “as long as Donald wants to make it.”
Y: The Last Man Status
Landgraf offered an update on the beloved comic property Y: The Last Man. “It’s in preproduction,” he said of the Brian K. Vaughan drama, noting that he has read five or six scripts so far. Scheduling conversations for the show haven’t begun, though, since the project isn’t yet in production. Landgraf also acknowledged the behind-the-scenes switch-up on the Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson-produced series that saw showrunners Aida Croal and Michael Green depart the effort and Eliza Clark come on board in June. “We changed showrunners and did a big reboot on it, so that was a big redevelopment,” he said. “But that seems to be going well.”