FX Executive Session with John Landgraf Press Tour Live-Blog

FX’s John Landgraf is an always-candid TCA press tour presence. 

Normally we’re happy to see him and reasonably gentle, leading to a positive tone. Will things be any different on Tuesday (January 14) morning after the somewhat bumpy FXX roll-out, including the abrupt cancellation of W. Kamau Bell’s late-night show? 

We’ll see. Click through to see what Landgraf has to say…

9:03 a.m. Our FX day starts with a testosterone-heavy clip reel.

9:07 a.m. Oooh. “The Strain” clips! It looks creeeeeepy.

9:08 a.m. John Landgraf begins at the podium for announcements and a quick presentation. FX was up 2 percent in the key demo and up 4 percent overall, so the network is happy. That includes only a 1 percent growth with men, but 4 percent growth with women. We call that angels dancing on the head of a pin, methinks. Landgraf is pleased with all of the TCA nods for “The Americans.” He’s pleased with ratings growth for “American Horror Story.” “It’s performance is right where we expected,” Landgraf says of FXX, though he emphasizes that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Basic cable had five of the top 20 shows last year on all of TV in the 18-49 demo, with “American Horror Story” and “Sons of Anarchy” leading for FX. Landgraf says that increased competition isn’t their biggest challenges, but rather lost ad-sale revenues. “We need to find new opportunities to mitigate those losses and we’re doing that,” Landgraf says. The long gestating FXNow will help FX rebuild its ad opportunities. Landgraf says they have “in-season stacking rights” for “the vast majority” of the network’s shows and that FXNow will have rights to a couple hundred movies and, of course, soon there will be “The Simpsons.” He promises an All-Things “Simpsons” digital ap, which I honestly couldn’t be more excited about. 

9:15 a.m. FX has a new comedy project starring Zach Galifianakis and co-written by Louis C.K. Also, Michael Cera and John Hawkes will star in another FX comedy. FX is going to shoot the Paul Giamatti pilot “Hoke” this spring, with Scott Frank writing and directing. “Louie” is coming back in May, as we know. FX has the limited series “Fargo,” the drama series “Tyrant” and “The Strain” coming in April, June and July respectively. “It will redefine the vampire drama,” Landgraf teases of “The Strain.”

9:18 a.m. Now it’s time for questions. The first question is a lecture on there being too much TV. Why isn’t he worried about competition? “Sometimes I shows continue to hit all-time highs every single year,” Landgraf says. 19 of the network’s 20 most watched programs came last year? When he started 10 years ago, he felt like they were a disposable medium, people would watch that night and that was it. Now they’re making shows for posterity. “You can still be earning money based on it for 5, 10 even 15 years after it,” he says. “Of course we own most of our programming, so we’re benefiting from both of those revenue streams,” he says, insisting that the cream is still rising to the top.

9:21 a.m. But is this business model working? “Not purely,” he says, which is why they’re putting such an emphasis on non-linear services and an ad model on that services. He says that they’ve been bailed out by ownership of content, calling it nice to have “more certain long-tail revenue.” He feels “bullish” about the business “even though the advertising business is stressed right now.”

9:22 a.m. Landgraf admits that there’s no reason why “Archer” and “Chozen” are FX shows and not FXX shows and that they’re still working to establish the brand. He thinks that because “Archer” is still growing, they want to keep it on FX to grow, while “Chozen” deserved the best available lead-in. “Just be patient with us. Eventually, several years from now, you’ll see that the shows have been positioned and the brands have been positioned and they’ve been dialed into focus,” he says.

9:23 a.m. Graham Yost and Timothy Olyphant were responsible for the decision to end “Justified” after next season. “We talked about it a year ago and they felt that the arc of the show and what they had to say would be best served by six seasons instead of seven, so regretfully I accepted their decision,” he says. 

9:24 a.m. What is FX’s threshold for a second season? “Fargo” is a close-ended series and subsequent seasons of “Fargo” would be like “American Horror Story” and “True Detective.” He hasn’t heard a story for a second season. He says “The Americans” and “The Bridge” were identical in terms of ratings. When it came to “The Bridge,” he had to decide if the series was likely to be better, worse or the same in the second season in terms of quality. “We often ask them to do some real thinking and talking to us about a second season,” Landgraf says. Regarding “The Bridge,” he wanted assurances they were going to be able to make a better show and he’s convinced. “If you have a reason to believe that the show is on a great creative trajectory and might eventually be on its way to being one of those 25 best shows on television, you ought to renew it,” he says. 

9:27 a.m. Are the best minds in TV coming to FX? Or are they courting them? “It’s incredibly competitive and therefore I think it’s a fantastic time for high-end talented and their representatives, because there are so many hungry buyers,” he says. “We’re seemingly continuously breaking new ground in terms of the amount of money we’re spending,” he says. “There’s no distinction between film and television,” Landgraf says, which means that the talent pool is bigger than ever.

9:29 a.m. What does Landgraf have to say about the next “American Horror Story” season? “Ryan has virtual carte blanche at this point to do whatever he wants to do,” Landgraf says. He admits that they have almost no input. Landgraf admits, incidentally, that FX was aggressive in bidding for “True Detective,” which the creator admits was inspired by “American Horror Story.” Landgraf thinks that even if Murphy does a weaker season, he’s sure the following season will be strong again. “I think it’ll probably be a period piece again,” Landgraf says, adding that most of the cast will be back, though he doesn’t know what characters they’ll be playing.

9:31 a.m. But is it dangerous if creators don’t have somebody to check their vision? “I think it is a little dangerous… and that kinda excites me,” Landgraf says. “I don’t think Louis [C.K.] needs my input,” he notes. He says that if you give creative freedom, it becomes a partnership. He thinks he could ask Murphy or Louis C.K. to do something, if they wanted to. “Make it really good for somebody, not pretty good for everybody,” Landgraf says of their ethos.

9:34 a.m. “I think we foster the perception that it’s a free-form scrum creatively at our challenge,” Landgraf says, but this isn’t true he says. “We’re very involved creatively and deeply involved in dialogue with all of our people,” Landgraf says. Landgraf says they’ve reshot parts of almost all of their pilots and he has audience surveys showing that all of them have tested better afterwards. “We’re hyper-critical about the work,” Landgraf says, while admitting they didn’t touch the “Damages” pilot. 

9:36 a.m. Landgraf likes HBOGo and uses it and he likes that the whole brand history of HBO is available there. In the long run, FXNow would like to be like that. However, FX has to include other partners for now. But they’re hoping that the shows will eventually come back to him.

9:38 a.m. What are the hurdles that Landgraf has had to go over on FXNow? What are the hurdles with distributors? “It’s a complicated business relationship,” he says. FX isn’t doing this as directly as Netflix is and that’s a struggle. [The next panel is backstage making a lot of noise. It’s very strange.] It’s also a complicated process from an advertising standpoint. Who’s doing the insertion? Who’s collecting the data? The agreement between Comcast and Fox might be 100 pages long, he says. “There’s a grinding negotiation on both sides of that,” he says.

That was a short-ish panel and we didn’t get to a lot of stuff.