Press Tour Live-Blog: John Landgraf on the State of FX Networks

It’s Friday (August 2) morning at the utterly endless Television Critics Association press tour.

Today is FX’s day, featuring panels for “Sons of Anarchy,” “American Horror Story: Coven” and “The Bridge,” among many others.

But first? FX CEO John Landgraf.

Click through for updates on all things FX…

9:00 a.m. Sizzle reel.

9:02 a.m. Long sizzle reel.

9:03 a.m. Landgraf takes the stage. He’s wearing glasses, so adjust your mental image appropriately from the image above. He’s feeling good about the state of FX, as well as FXX and the yet-to-release FXNow.

9:03 a.m. He begins by praising the “remarkable first season” for “The Americans,” claiming to be pleased with ratings, as well as TCA Awards nominations and whatnot. “We can never sing the praises of ‘Justified’ enough,” he continues. “‘Archer’ had another great season,” he says, noting rising ratings for the animated favorite. “Legit” gets its praise and the second season will premiere on FXX in January. Landgraf admits that “Wilfred” is down a bit in ratings, but blames it on premiering the comedy against Game 7 of the NBA Finals. The DVR numbers are setting records for “The Bridge,” Landgraf says, without announcing any sort of renewal.

9:06 a.m. FXX will premiere in a little over a month. And FX has “Sons of Anarchy” in September and “American Horror Story” in October. “Justified” and “Archer” return in January. “Louie” will be back NEXT MAY.

9:07 a.m. “Fargo” will premiere in the spring. Billy Bob Thornton will apparently star. Interesting. “The Strain” and “Tyrant” lead FX’s development. “The Strain” is, of course, from Guillermo del Toro and Carlton Cuse and stars Corey Stoll. Production begins next month in Toronto. “Tyrant” will be directed by David Yates and will shoot in Morocco.

9:09 a.m. “Chozen” will premiere on FXX in January. 

9:09 a.m. FX has six comedies in development including “Death Pact” with Tracy Morgan, “The Comedians” with Billy Crystal, Charlie Kaufman’s “How and Why” and more. The network wants to be up to 25 originals soon on all of its network platforms.

9:10 a.m. FXX will premiere in 70+ million homes. 

9:11 a.m. “We can feel that non-linear viewing is increasing,” Landgraf says, hoping that FXNow will emulate the success of HBO and Showtime’s non-linear platforms. They hope to roll out FXNow in November.

9:12 a.m. Lots of Emmy nominations. Lots of TCA Awards nominations. And that’s it for Landgraf’s prepared statements.

9:12 a.m. What are there so many darned dark anti-heros on TV? “I can’t imagine a protagonist darker than Walter White. I think that’s the end of the road for out-darking each other,” Landgraf says, noting that on “Justified,” the protagonist is a flawed hero and not an anti-hero. He says that the same is true of the leads on “The Bridge.” He says it’s the nature of the medium. “If you’re telling an episodic story every week, then action and consequences need to be linked every single week,” he says. 

9:16 a.m. “There are no characters in the limited series ‘Fargo’ that are derived from the characters in the film ‘Fargo,'” Landgraf says. So no, Billy Bob Thornton is not playing the William H. Macy character or the Steve Buscemi character or… anything. He says that the series is very true to the original movie. He says that there’s a female deputy in her 20s and that Noah Hawley wrote a script that the Coen Brothers approved of. He says the Coen Brothers wanted to do a rewrite on the pilot script, but instead just turned in a few notes because they liked the pilot so much.

9:16 a.m. “It’s really about age or demography,” Landgraf says of the difference between FX and FXX. We’ve heard all this before. “I do think the spirit of the brand will be the same across,” Landgraf says. It’s all about age.

9:19 a.m. Does FX have any interest in period pieces? “I think that what the channel’s done well is foster people who want to take on a genre, but they want to break that genre down and reinvent it,” he says. “‘Game of Thrones’ is sui generis. It’s an utterly singular show,” Landgraf raves. He says FX is all about distinctive points of view and characters. He references the limited series group and says that FX has bought a number of historical pieces, including a Harper’s Ferry miniseries with Paul Giamatti. He praises the grit and authenticity of “Game of Thrones.” FX also has a piece about the Mayflower (as does NBC, if you’ll recall). He calls their approach more auteur-driven or filmmaker driven.

9:22 a.m. What kind of impact does FX expect the split to FXX will involve? He says that the process was started a year-and-a-half ago. “We’re going to make just a lot more television shows,” he promised. So FXX won’t just be cannibalizing FX. Landgraf says that FX is licensing roughly 2/3rds of the Hollywood blockbusters, so FX needs more shelf-space for all of that inventory. FX, as you may have heard, has got the movies. He feels like FX has been punching above its weight for a long time and this will help FX grow to become a heavyweight. 

9:25 a.m. Will “Fargo” only have 10 episodes? “The story of ‘Fargo’ ends at the 10th episode,” Landgraf says, hinting only that the characters don’t continue. “It would have to be a whole new story in the tone and vernacular of ‘Fargo,'” he adds of a possible second season. He references the model of HBO’s “True Detective,” which is an anthological series of miniseries.

9:26 a.m. More confusion about how FX and FXX are different. “Bad Teacher” and “Hall Pass” are among the movies that will have broadcast premieres on FXX. Landgraf has another sizzle reel suggesting how FXX’s branding will be just slightly different. Mostly it involves an extra “X.”

9:28 a.m. How graphic will “The Strain” be? Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan want to tell the stories of the books, whether that’s over three or four or five seasons. He says 39 to 65 episodes, “no less, no more.” He says that FX doesn’t like to constrain storytelling to any single form. He thinks that the “limited” marketplace helps give storytellers more ways to tell story and lets them find the optimal number of hours in which to tell a story. He praises Louis C.K. for “throwing out the form.” Regarding how graphic “The Strain” will be, he promises, “It’s a horror show and I think you can expect content commensurate with ‘Walking Dead’ and ‘American Horror Story.'”

9:32 a.m. Finally a Netflix question. “I understand and really sympathize with some of the frustration that some of the broadcast networks are feeling,” Landgraf says of all of the different models currently at work. Networks get report cards every morning, he says and notes how inaccurate those report cards are becoming. Then you have basic cable networks in the middle with subscription money, but still interested in ratings. Then you have premium cable networks, where the size of audience is only relevant for perception, rather than for ad money. And then you have Netflix, which has decided “either the numbers don’t matter at all or that those numbers are privileged information that they don’t need to share.” If Landgraf were Mayor of Television, he’d make sure that numbers were available. He’s not the Mayor of Television, though. He says that you have to give Netflix “a good nod” for the quality of their output. “Do I wish they were releasing their information? Yeah, I do,” he says, but he compliments them again on the quality.

9:35 a.m. FX is a little bit less ratings-dependent now. “If you have more shows, you can have shows that serve a different purpose,” Landgraf says. He says that the network can now target older viewers and that they don’t have to rely on 18-34 or 18-49 quite so much. “For me it’s been a great luxury to be able to spread out a little bit,” he says. He sees shows growing in fourth and fifth seasons and this excites him.

That’s all, folks…