In 2002, two months into his new job as VP of series development at FX, Nick Grad took an unusual pitch from a writer named Ryan Murphy.
“He wanted to do a show about people who wanted to fix their outside instead of their inside,” Grad recalls. The last detail of the pitch was that these guys were plastic surgeons.
The network, which at the time was desperate for some new creative blood, couldn't order a pilot script of Nip/Tuck fast enough. The show, coupled with fellow FX drama The Shield, helped change the basic cable television landscape forever, paving the way for quirky, and very adult, dramas.
“Nurturing is how I would describe [Grad],” Murphy recalls. “It is a very talent-friendly way to work with provocative material. I think I threatened to quit the show every month, and it would always be Nick who would be the sweet one and say, 'Come on, take a breath.'”
Now executive VP of original programming at FX, Grad hopes to expand the network's comedy cred in the same way Nip/Tuck and The Shield helped make the network one of the go-to places on basic cable for creatives.
Comedy comes naturally to Grad. He worked on The King of Queens and The Tick, among many other projects, while in comedy development at Sony subsidiary Columbia TriStar Television, which eventually became Sony Pictures Television.
But before Grad got the chance to manage, in 1991 he started out, as so many others in the business have, as an assistant at Fox Broadcasting. He made the jump to manager four years later, and was then named director of current programming at Columbia TriStar. He shifted to comedy development in 1997.
Columbia TriStar was where Grad honed his skills as a development executive, and as a creative advocate. “Not only were you at the time the Columbia TriStar representative in the world of the show, but you were also the show's representative to Columbia TriStar,” Grad says. “I learned to fight for things that my producers wanted, to try to be their voice in a lot of rooms where they didn't get their voice heard.”
It was also at Columbia TriStar that Grad first met and worked with Kevin Reilly, who was then leading Brad Grey Television; Reilly joined FX as its president of entertainment in 2000. “I saw the pilot of The Shield, and I basically stalked Kevin until he hired me,” Grad recalls. He started at FX as VP in May 2002.
Following the success of Nip/Tuck, Grad would have a hand in every project coming through the FX pipeline, from Damages and Sons of Anarchy to the comedy It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. While Sunny was a hit, the network struggled for a time to find a show to pair it with. It ordered Testees in 2008, but the show failed to bring in an audience. Last year, Grad and FX President John Landgraf made a concerted effort to expand comedy development, focusing on concepts that were low in cost but high in the kind of originality and creativity seen in Sunny.
“He is terrific in dealing with and talking to creative people and their representatives,” Landgraf says. “That is one of the things that are incredibly important at FX. You have to love it; you have to have a really genuine love of storytelling and comedy and drama, and you have to love creative people.”
To that end, fantasy football comedy The League debuted Oct. 29 and performed well enough to get a second-season pickup. Now the network is primed to enter the animated comedy space with Archer, which will premiere on Jan. 14, followed by Louie, featuring comedian Louis C.K., which will hit the air in the spring.
“It is much easier to establish a brand by putting the shows out there rather than talking philosophically about what you want,” Grad points out.
And with each new pilot, and each new show, whether it works or not, there are lessons to be learned. “You have to keep yourself open and never have hard rules,” Grad says. “There is always something to learn that you didn't know yesterday.”