Press Tour '11 Live-Blog: FX Executive Session
It's the final Saturday (August 6) of the Television Critics Association press tour and we're getting sleepy. And by "getting sleepy," I mean "have been nearly comatose for three or four days now." Before the TCA Awards this evening, though, we have an action-packed day of FX panels with favorites including "Sons of Anarchy," "The League," "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and much more.
But first... 30 minutes with FX President and General Manager John Landgraf.
9:02 a.m. We begin with the news that Landgraf has renewed his contract for another three years. That's a lot. And Landgraf justifies his new contract by talking about FX's 17 percent year-to-date increase in ratings. He had kind words for "Justified," "Archer," "Wilfred" and more.
9:05 a.m. First piece of news: "Wilfred" renewed for a second season.
9:06 a.m. More news: "Louie" has been renewed for a third season.
9:06 a.m. MORE news: FX has formed FX Canada. That's cool, eh?
9:07 a.m. EVEN MORE NEWS: FX has ordered "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" for two additional seasons. This will make "Sunny" the longest running comedy in basic cable history, apparently.
9:08 a.m. Does FX envision "American Horror Story" as a close-ended 13? "It's designed to go multiple years. Some aspects of the show will be close-ended each season," Landgraf says. He adds that while some elements will be close-ended, but other elements -- certain characters and aspects of the core haunted house -- will be part of an ongoing mythology.
9:10 a.m. Landgraf says that his time as a producer, specifically working on "Reno 911!" inspired FX's approach to comedy, specifically shooting cheap and fast. "When I got to FX, I had a strong ambition to take what I'd learned as an executive producer and bring it to basic cable," he says.
9:13 a.m. Is FX still The Flawed Male Network? "We've really tried to broaden," Landgraf says, referencing "Dirt" and "Damages" and "The Riches" as examples of the network's commitment to female characters. He suggests that Katey Sagal is every bit a "Sons of Anarchy" lead. "If you look at FX as a channel, it's 52 percent male and 48 percent female, so it's very closed to balanced viewership," Landgraf says, suggesting that FX is actually more balanced than the general TV landscape as a whole. "I think what it does is it provides contrast between FX and other channels," Landgraf says, saying that between Turner and the networks, most of TV is female skewing. He references his wife -- that'd be Ally Walker -- as a woman who finds most of TV's female-centric programming to be too soft.
9:16 a.m. FX is very happy with its Big 12/Pac 12 sports package. It's part of what allows FX to be in the conversation with the bigger cable networks like TNT and USA. FX still wants to get up to seven comedies on-air. It's up to five. "We're not quite done yet," Landgraf says, adding that FX also has a strong focus on drama. He references "Powers" and "Outlaw Country," two drama pilots that were made in the same development cycle as "American Horror Story." "So far, what I've seen from 'Powers' and 'Outlaw Country' looks real good," he says.
9:19 a.m. FX also has an option to pick up a 10th season "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." He teases that "Sunny' Season 7 is the show's funniest season. He says that the "Sunny" team is trying different kinds of stories as they move forward. With dramas, FX wants to "find an optimal balance" in telling the whole saga, making sure they get to end, whenever possible.
9:21 a.m. What did FX like about "Powers"? Well, they liked the comic, of course. "It's a really, gritty, edgy, very real, very dark cop show. It also happens to have superhero elements in it," Landgraf says. "What we saw is the possibility to do a really different, interesting take on a cop show," Landgraf says, pointing out that FX hasn't had a cop show since "The Shield." He thinks "Powers" has the emotional weight to have a seven-season run, saying it has the potential to be "a 90-hour movie." He points out that most TV superhero shows have be 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. shows, but "Powers" "aspires to be a serious drama." When will FX be making a decision on it? Well, he's only seen dailies. FX will see the pilots within a month or six weeks, so a decision will be made in two months or three months.
9:25 a.m. Will this be a back-to-basics season for "Sons of Anarchy"? "I think that the audience will be really satisfied with the fourth season of 'Sons of Anarchy,'" Landgraf says, point out that this season's primary conflicts are internal to the club. Landgraf argues that "The Shield" had seasons that were more favored and less favored "but they're all necessary to the telling of the whole saga." In that vein, Landgraf had no conversations with Kurt Sutter about focusing the drama and bringing it back in this season. "If we clamp down on our showrunners and say 'We are the arbiters of what the audience wants...' we're going to miss out on some tremendous experiments," Landgraf observes. He says that his definition of leadership is the willingness to let people experiment and sail ships into uncharted waters. "I can't abandon that philosophy towards our showrunners," he says.
9:29 a.m. Is FX looking for different things now than maybe five or 10 years ago? "Terriers" and "Lights Out" are finally invoked. Can just character dramas succeed? "To some extend," Landgraf admits. He says it's getting harder and harder for original dramas to even get awareness, much less to get people to watch." Landgraf says that FX still aspires to be both literary and populist. He says "The Shield" and "Rescue Me" are examples of shows that check both boxes.
9:33 a.m. "I don't think it will," Landgraf says, though he agrees that there may be arguably too much scripted programming on TV. "I think when the consumer can't even differentiate how much product there is, there's probably too much," he says. He points out that in this landscape, "renewal" or "cancellation" no longer can be equated to "success" or "failure." He suspects that "American Horror Story" is going to be a breakthrough piece of television, but "American Horror Story" couldn't exist if "Terriers" and "Lights Out" don't get canceled, but that doesn't mean the canceled shows weren't successes on some level.
That's all, folks...