It's hard to believe, but the TCA press tour is coming toward its end. We have PBS on Monday and Tuesday to wrap things up, but Sunday (January 18) is an FX day packed with panels, from “Archer” and “It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” to an afternoon that closes with the potent punch of “Louie”/”Justified”/”Americans.”
I'll be live-blogging a few of those panels and doing write-ups of whatever news breaks, but first, it's time to spend quality time with FX Networks and FX Productions CEO John Landgraf.
9:25 a.m. Pacific. The picture with this live-blog isn't from today, but it reflects John Landgraf's lack of facial hair. This is important. No network chief keeps us guessing with facial hair like John Landgraf.
9:37 p.m. FX is panning an insane six comedies and two dramas today. That's a lot. The clip reel shows the network has just a ton of programming. And, lest we forget… TV's best show last year in “Fargo.”
9:38 a.m. “I know at this point many of you are feeling close to death,” Landgraf says aptly, before going into the network's current report card. FX's 2014 report card is good. They were No.4 among adults 18-49 for last year and No.8 in total viewers. Yes, they were down in the 18-49 demo, but everybody else was down more and if you include FXX and FX Movies, the FX Brand was up by 10 percent. FXX was up nearly 70 percent last year, thanks largely to “The Simpsons.” From August-on, FXX was No.25 in cable in the 18-49 demo. Landgraf says the “Tyrant” team had a “strong creative finish,” though he acknowledges reviews were mixed and there was a “low din” of controversy. “The Strain” did well. He thinks “Married” got better and it's a “very special show” and says that “You're the Worst” established itself as one of TV's best comedies by the end of its season. “The League” did well and, as we know, will be back for a seventh and final season. “Sons of Anarchy” had a big finale and Landgraf will miss it and thanks Kurt Sutter. “American Horror Story” is up 22 percent in all-platform viewing for its “Freak Show” season. And then, of course, there's “Fargo.” He references its place on the HitFix Critics' Poll at No.1. WOO HITFIX! FX had lots of Emmy recognition and TCA Awards and whatnot.
9:44 a.m. Landgraf says this may be his favorite “It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” which he reminds us has been renewed through Season 12. “We think the show will create strong buzz and create awareness for FXX,” Landgraf says of “You're the Worst,” which will return this summer. “The Comedians” and “Louie” will premiere on April 9. “I just think it's gut-splittingly funny and truly great,” Landgraf says of “The Comedians.” “Louie” hasn't actually begun production on its new season yet? But the next season will be eight episodes. “Baskets” will premiere next year. This spring they'll shoot the pilot for Donald Glover's “Atlanta.” And, in a new announcement, FX has ordered the Pamela Adlon pilot “Better Thing.” Also, FX will air the comedy special from Louis C.K.'s current comedy tour, which will premiere on his website, but then come to FX. “We hope, fingers crossed, that maybe this year the Emmy voters will follow your lead,” Landgraf says of “The Americans.” “Fargo” begins production next week and it will premiere in the fall. He can't tell us what will be up in the next season of “American Horror Stories.” “The Bastard Executioner,” from Kurt Sutter, will shoot in Wales this spring. “I think it's very likely that the series will premiere on FX this fall,” Landgraf says of “Bastard Executioner.” That's optimistic. “Taboo,” starring Tom Hardy, will premiere in 2016. And production will begin this spring on “American Crime Story,” which will debut in early 2016.
9:51 a.m. Landgraf says the competition in the cable marketplace is “literally” insane. They count 353 scripted original series on television this past year. That's… a lot. He says that in this environment, critics play a bigger role than ever. Landgraf's research department may, indeed, be genuinely insane. Apparently HBO had the most Top 10 inclusions for last year, followed by FX. He says that the race for TV's best is only a competition between HBO and FX, with AMC and Netflix lagging way, way behind. “That's not a swipe at everyone else,” Landgraf says.
9:55 a.m. And now? A few questions. Denis O'Hare plays Landgraf in “The Comedians.” Landgraf says he did a very good job and that the fictional Landgraf's concern about his hairline is accurate, but some other details are fictional. “It's gonna still take time to get every show still positioned on the channel it ought to be on,” Landgraf says of sorting things out properly between FX and FXX.
9:56 a.m. After the creatively rich second season of “The Bridge,” it was canceled. What is the message that sends? He says that the challenge they faced was doing a show based on a format. The format was a serial killer show, but what they were interested in was a character drama set on the border. He says that the first season was an uncomfortable marriage between those two things. Landgraf says that creator Elwood Reid was running a show for the first time and it took him a while to get the pieces in place and get the story cooking. Landgraf feels that the show found itself creatively, but he looked at the ratings and it was a “relentlessly downward trajectory.” He says that if a show doesn't find any ratings momentum by the end of a third season, it usually doesn't happen. “I had a lot of regrets about not renewing that show, because I really care about it,” he says. “At the end of the day I think you also have to pay some attention to ratings. We ignore it for a long time,” he says, adding that “The Bridge” wasn't showing any positive signs even in non-live viewership.
10:00 a.m. What can he say about “Tyrant” and picking it up? They're going to shoot mostly in Eastern Europe, Morocco and Turkey this next season. Landgraf says that it was interesting to watch their writers work their way into an emotional connection with the characters. They worked a lot with Middle Eastern experts, who are serving as consultants. They got a great pitch on a second season. “There's a bias towards giving a show a chance if it's really growing creatively,” he says of ordering second seasons.
10:02 a.m. Regarding “Fargo,” Landgraf says the second season will be “in some ways more comedic,” adding that the backdrop will be Ronald Reagan's first campaign for president and the cultural transition America was going through. “It's also about feminism,” Landgraf adds. “It's a big, sprawling, incredibly ambitious…” Landgraf says. He loves the scripts and he's excited about the cast.
10:04 a.m. Is “anthological miniseries” the best name that anybody can come up with for what “Fargo” and “AHS” actually are? Landgraf feels like the 22-episode-per-year procedural structure was a box that good storytellers have traditionally been put in. He praises David Chase and “The Sopranos” for breaking that box. But after a decade of doing that, Landgraf began to feel like *that* was becoming a box. His new question: “What if the innovation is that on some level, the length of the show should really fit the length of that story?” So some stories can be six or 13 or even 50 hours. “Fargo” is an example of a story that was great at 10 hours, but wouldn't have worked at two or 30. “I think it is a gamechanger,” he says of the anthological miniseries.
10:08 a.m. Landgraf repeats that “Louie” will be eight episodes this season. “He's got a very dynamic, professional and creative life now,” Landgraf says of Louis C.K. He admits Louis was a little burnt out after the early seasons and so now the process is about letting him recharge and then letting him make the best show he can.
10:13 a.m. What is the long-term prognosis for “The Americans,” a critical favorite, but not a huge hit? “I think it'll be at least five,” Landgraf says of the likely season length. “I sure would like to see the Emmys finally step up to take notice,” he says. “We're not really a channel that's trying to be the highest rated channel on television,” he says. They're trying to be the best channel, so the network can support shows that push them to that goal. He returns to “The Bridge” as an example of a show that was still declining after 26 episodes, forcing him to be the bad guy.
That's all, folks…