Press Tour 2013 Live-Blog: FX Executive Session with John Landgraf

FX President and General Manager John Landgraf doesn’t really have that much to answer for as he takes the stage on Wednesday (Jan.9) at the Television Critics Association press tour.

There haven’t been any abrupt cancellations. “Louie” and “American Horror Story” won Emmys. “Sons of Anarchy” keeps setting ratings highs. Etc.

Yes, “Louie” is taking a year off, but that’s not Landgraf’s fault…

So click through to follow what transpires…

9:03 a.m. Landgraf has no opening statement, other than that the lights are bright.

9:04 a.m. “Ultimate Fighter” is going to 9 p.m., which doesn’t mean that FX is expanding more into that hour to give lead-ins for some of its show. FX has had some concerns about the ratings on Friday night, so they’re letting it lead into “Justified” after three weeks. The problem is that FX only makes TV-MA programming, which limits them at 9 p.m. “I’d love to be able to stack programming,” Landgraf says, noting that lead-ins don’t mean what they used to and that only 50% of FX’s audience watches original programming live. Landgraf says that the percentage of people under 18 who watch the network’s TV-MA dramas is under 5 percent. Who knew? Anyway, that’s similar to the percentage under 18 watching premium cable shows.

9:07 a.m. Obligatory violence and responsibility question. “I think my first response is that I’m a really curious person,” Landgraf says. He’s interested in studies about correlation between violence and violent content. “As an industry, we should study it more,” he says. He says that there’s a difference between “third person entertainment” — watching a character who isn’t you — and “first person entertainment” — video games in which you’re the character. Landgraf says that he looked at data about gun violence after the Connecticut tragedy, specifically comparing gun violence in America and UK. This is why we love John Landgraf. Unlike Kevin Reilly yesterday, Landgraf has an ACTUAL answer to this question, one that he’s clearly considered. He says that “anything and everything” should be fair game and looked at, though he points specifically at access to gun, while also advocating in favor of the Second Amendment, clarifying the difference between a shotgun/handgun and bigger stuff.

9:12 a.m. Question about giving showrunners freedom and not running into AMC’s current showrunner issues. He thinks the most important thing is setting up a trusting collaborative relationship. “That can’t be a passive relationship,” he emphasizes, noting that he hasn’t had any showrunners he hasn’t had conflicts with, but the network hasn’t fired any showrunner in the network’s history. He’s proud of that history. “In terms of how we relate to these people and also, ultimately how we compensate them, we try really, really hard to have them continue,” Landgraf says. He says this is important in terms of how shows continue and conclude. What does that mean in terms of “Walking Dead” with its myriad showrunners? “It looks to me that AMC managed to make a very successful transition,” he says of the Frank-to-Glenn transition and “It remains to be seen if they can pull that feat off again.” 

9:16 a.m. How long is “It’s Always Sunny” likely to last? And how important was “Sunny” to the brand? “I think that the FX brand has four cornerstones,” he says, those are “The Shield,” “Nip/Tuck,” “Rescue Me” and “Sunny.” They think 10 seasons is a good run, but whether it continues after that will depend on audience and, of course, the guys. “There’ll definitely be one more year, I’d say probably two,” he says.

9:18 a.m. FX is getting a bit more into female-driven dramas with “The Americans” and possibly “The Border,” but Landgraf notes that the show has had success with female leads previously, observing that watchers of TV dramas tend to be more female. He mentions “Dirt,” “The Riches” and “Damages” as shows in FX’s second phase that were female-centric. He doesn’t want FX to be a “male brand,” per se. The problem is that women have been the target of broadcast networks for years and aren’t under-served. He says that because of FX’s history, though, men have been the focus and the primary audience. “We really struggle a little,” he admits. He says that “The Bridge” is “a great pilot with two great performances, but they aren’t announcing a pick-up for it now.

9:22 a.m. “I think that male anti-heroes are something that’s more easily acceptable,” Landgraf muses, before noting that Glenn Close’s “Damages” character is a successful female anti-hero. They’ve had three shows that skewed more female demographic in “Nip/Tuck,” “American Horror Story” and “Damages.” “I’m getting a little tired of male anti-heroes,” Landgraf admits, differentiating that Timothy Olyphant’s character is a flawed hero and not an anti-hero.

9:23 a.m. Jessica Lange will be back on “AHS” for Season 3, Landgraf says, but Ryan Murphy either hasn’t told him or he isn’t telling us who else will be back.

9:24 a.m. A reporter is worn down by the high body count on some of FX’s show. “We actually talk about all the stuff as a staff at FX. We have a surprising number of abstract, theoretical conversations,” Landgraf says. Somebody at a recent conversation says that because humans are animals, we’re riveted by issues of life and death. He observes how many of last year’s most popular cable shows are, indeed, rather violent or they’re about “life or death stakes.” That group includes “Walking Dead,” “Hatfields & McCoys” and “True Blood.” We fear death, Landgraf tells us. “The Americans” is a somewhat less violent show and “it’s also about a marriage,” he says, comparing it to “The Sopranos.” Landgraf says “The Americans” may be tailored to appeal to a slightly older audience than “Sons of Anarchy” and “Justified.” 

9:28 a.m. Landgraf says that 20-year-olds and 50-year-olds fear different things and fear death in different ways. This is getting kinda deep. 

9:29 a.m. What is FX’s plan with the 90 episodes of “Anger Management”? “It will basically stay on the air without interruption for two years,” Landgraf says. That means 45 episodes per “Anger Management” per year. Wow. That’s… impressive. Have they tinkered with the show? They’re bringing in Martin Sheen, as we knew. He’ll be in every third episode, roughly. “I thought it would be a better series if it were also a multi-generational family series,” Landgraf explains. 

9:31 a.m. Question about Netflix’s model. Will that model make FX reconsider episodes OnDemand and whatnot? Landgraf says their partners are interested in making more episodes available OnDemand. He expects the industry to find advertising solutions for non-linear viewing. He speculates that “The Walking Dead” may be the only scripted basic cable show that has ever paid for itself with advertising. Every year, Landgraf gets irked by Netflix’s refusal to release data on EXACT viewership for their original programs. This is a favorite issue of his and he’s not wrong to be annoyed. “They like the fact that they don’t have to have a report card,” Landgraf says. “If you want to be a better student, get a grade. Find out how you’re doing,” he says.

That’s all…