John Landgraf: HBO, FX Lap the Field in ‘Race For TV’s Best’

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

FX Chief: “HBO and FX Absolutely Dominated the Race for Quality in Television”.

FX has set April 9 as the premiere date for its Billy Crystal-Josh Gad comedy “The Comedians,” which will bow in tandem with the fifth season of “Louie.” At its Sunday presentation at the Television Critics Assn. press tour, FX also said it has ordered comedy pilot “Better Things” starring “Louie” player Pamela Adlon. “Louie” auteur Louis C.K. will co-write the comedy with Adlon and direct the pilot, which revolves around an actress trying to raise three daughters by herself. FX Networks CEO John Landgraf kept a TCA tradition, taking a shot or two at premium cable and digital platforms, arguing that FX is as good as them despite not having the same cachet. After praising the network’s robust slate of shows and its 2014 Nielsen standing — FX rounded out the year the No. 4 network on cable, with four of the top 10 rated cable series — the famously erudite network chief showcased a pair of PowerPoint slides that broke down the networks by the number of critics’ top 10 lists their programming appeared on in 2014. HBO topped that list at 250 mentions, with FX ranking second with a similarly impressive 213, thanks to a growing cadre of shows that include The Americans, Fargo, Louie and Justified. The point he was looking to make not with superlatives but with data: The rest, including AMC, Netflix and Showtime, ranked well behind with 74, 67 and 62 mentions, respectively. “HBO and FX absolutely dominated the race for quality in television, and this shows at the moment that the race for the best in TV is really only a competition between two channels, with all the others way, way behind the two leaders,” he said as a roomful of reporters took in the slides.

He added, “I would submit if FX was previously considered part of a group of channels battling out for second place in a perceptual pecking order, the factual pecking order is now that HBO and FX are No. 1 and No. 2, and everyone else is in a pack battling it out for No. 3.” Landgraf has been vocal about distinguishing FX anthologies American Horror Story and Fargo from traditional drama series and ripping HBO for not taking the same route with True Detective. He was more philosophical on the issue of drama series formats today. “When I looked at the revolution in TV sparked by The Sopranos, when you take storytellers and put them into a confined box, they can make some good shows but eventually everything starts to feel repetitive,” he said. “While these really great novelistic series continue to come through the door, that started to feel like a formula — a drama has to be 7 years long, 91 hours… that turned into golden handcuffs. What would help solidify the latter, however, would be stronger ratings and awards attention to match the series’ unanimous critical praise. “I sure would like the Emmys to step up and take notice, and I think that would be really helpful for the show,” he said from the stage, noting that the Russian spy drama’s forthcoming third season is the best yet.

And while the ratings are a perennial disappointment, Landgraf reiterated that the series does lift the network’s creative standing: “We’re not really a channel that’s trying to be the highest-rated channel on television,” he added. “We’re trying as hard as we possibly can to be the best channel on television.” Landgraf acknowledged that he does have regrets about pulling the plug after the second season of the border drama, but the ratings were such that he had no choice. “It was a relentless downward trajectory,” he said, adding that while he can ignore ratings for a long time, if a series is still falling after 26 episodes he has to reconsider the space it’s taking up on the schedule. There were other challenges, too, with Landgraf acknowledging that this was the first time the network had done a show based on a format and the series struggled to replicate the original iteration’s marriage of a border storyline with a serial killer one early on. And the decision to do more will be in his hands as well, but Landgraf noted that his star does want to keep making the show after the forthcoming season, which bows in April. Landgraf shed more light on the upcoming second installment of Fargo. “It covers something that was referenced in the first installment…it’s a big sprawling, in some ways more comedic, but at times more serious show… set agains Reagan’s first presidential campaign. In the interim, FX announced Sunday that it’ll air a C.K. stand-up special, which will come out of the comic’s currently sold-out comedy tour, and a Pamela Adlon pilot that C.K. will produce.

The FX boss argued that the anthology format is the latest means of breaking free, with the length of the show being dictated by the optimal length of the story, and not the other way around. To that end, Landgraf added: “Fargo was pretty great at 10 hours, and it wouldn’t have been if you tried to spread it out to 30 or 50, or tried to compress it down to two.”

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