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

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

FX Boss Teases ‘Fargo’ Season 2; Will Have Ronald Reagan Character.

Two pieces of information that speak to the modern realities of running a cable television network were buried in the middle of FX Networks president John Landgraf’s address to reporters at the beginning of FX’s day at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. John Landgraf: HBO, FX Lap the Field in ‘Race For TV’s Best.’ When it comes to high-quality TV, there’s HBO, there’s FX — and then there’s everybody else. The first was that FXX — FX’s ratings challenged kid brother — saw its numbers jump 146 percent after adding exclusive cable reruns of The Simpsons.

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 power-point slides, which broke down the networks by the number of critics’ 2014 top 10 lists that their programming appeared on. The new chapter travels back to 1979, where a young Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson, played in the first season by Keith Carradine) returns from Vietnam and begins to investigate a local gang and a mob syndicate. “It covers something that was referenced in the first installment by Lou Solverson, Molly Solverson’s [Allison Tolman] father,” Langraf said. “It’s a big sprawling, in some ways, more comedic [season], though at times, a very serious show. It was previously revealed that the show, from Creator Noah Hawley, would go back in time, and the FX boss said the presence of a man about to become President, looms. “It’s set in the late ’70s, against the backdrop of Ronald Reagan’s first campaign for President of the United States.

Reagan is a character in it, and some movies that he’s reputed to have made, but a lot of what it’s about is the cultural transformation that was going on in America at that time,” Landgraf explained. “So it’s about the sense of — that the war has come home, [Lou] Solverson is a [Vietnam] veteran, and it’s also about feminism, so there are some really significant female characters, as there were with Molly Solverson.” After the panel, Access spoke with Landgraf who said the show is casting a Ronald Reagan. The point he made not with superlatives but with data: the rest, AMC, Netflix and Showtime, ranked well behind with 74, 67 and 62, 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.” Speaking to the network’s anthologies such as American Horror Story and Fargo, Landgraf said that the current trend in miniseries is an extension of “the revolution in television that was sparked by David Chase and by The Sopranos.” In the 22-episode-a-season broadcast model, networks “could make some good shows, but eventually everything started to seem repetitive.” That model, he said, was broken by “sprawling, novelistic sort of shows” like The Sopranos and The Wire. Joining Wilson in the second season: Ted Danson as Hank Larsson, Lou’s unflappable father-in-law; Nick Offerman as Karl Weathers, a local lawyer; Jean Smart as Floyd Gerhardt, the matriarch of the Gerhardt crime family; Jeffrey Donovan as her eldest son, Dodd Gerhardt; Angus Sampson as her inarticulate middle son, Bear Gerhardt; Kieran Culkin as her youngest son, Rye Gerhardt; and Kirsten Dunst as small town beautician Peggy Blomquist, and her husband Ed (Jesse Plemons), who attempts to be supportive of his wife’s self-discovery, even if he doesn’t quite understand it.

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 form 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. But more than anything else, it reinforced the competitive drive of Landgraf and his team to be acknowledged as best-in-class in TV and on the same prestigious plane as HBO. 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.

Yet there’s little doubt that FX has the goods to back up its bravado, between the near-universal acclaim for its risky swing at a TV reinterpretation of “Fargo,” plus the affection for other darlings including “Justified,” “Louie,” “American Horror Story,” “The Americans” and fledgling comedy “You’re the Worst.” FX and FXX are upping the ante this year with the rollout of its broadest slate of original series to date — a total of 19 new and returning shows across the two channels. Landgraf emphasized that his team is focused on finding the optimal format for creatives to deliver their vision rather than sticking to traditional 13- and 22-episode structures.

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. See, reappropriation of other networks’ programming — what FXX does with The Simpsons — is the whole reason those creatively acclaimed shows even exist. 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.

But in the history of television, original programming has always been a long-term investment, losing money (often lots of it) in the early going and then hopefully, eventually recouping that investment. Original programming, meanwhile, requires new money spent on every single episode and eventually adds up to be far more expensive than those movies and reruns. Eventually, the money the network sells in advertising for those reruns becomes almost pure profit — which is then funneled back into original programming development.

So much of television right now is about building out brand names, about getting you to associate the name “FX” with “quality programming.” That was what Landgraf’s larger point about FX getting within spitting distance of HBO was all about. FXX paid so much money — $750 million — for The Simpsons because it knew this, and because The Simpsons was one of the few remaining cash cows without a cable deal.

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