Landgraf's Rx for FX

New president talks about the network's future

After less than a year and a half at FX as entertainment president, John Landgraf was officially tapped last week as FX Networks' president and general manager, filling a leadership position vacated when Peter Liguori became entertainment president at Fox in March. Having established itself with original dramas The Shield, Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me, FX will follow up with five original series Landgraf put into production.

June brings the debut of 30 Days, a documentary about what happens when people radically change lifestyles (Supersize Me's Morgan Spurlock executive produces); the Iraq war drama Over There, from Steven Bochco/Chris Gerolmo, bows in July; and in August, FX branches into half-hour original comedies with Starved (four people in New York with eating disorders; from Eric Schaeffer/Dan Pasternack) and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (friends running a bar in Philly; from Rob McElhenney). The network's fifth drama, Thief, bows in early 2006. Landgraf talked with B&C's Anne Becker about what is next for him and the network.

How do you feel about stepping into a business role at the network after heading entertainment?

Peter Liguori was really good about integrating me into the business issues. I'm used to running a company. I'm familiar with business affairs and financial negotiation. Cable distribution, ad sales and acquisitions are new for me, but there are really experienced business officials at the network. I'm very comfortable, in part because of my own experience and because of the tremendous experience of others I'm working with.

Why aren't you in a rush to name a successor to head entertainment?

There are very talented executives who work for me, and they deserve a share of the credit for the channel's success. Bringing someone in from the outside would be a lack of recognition for the guys there now. A number of them will gain greater responsibility over the next year or two.

With such successful original shows, what's your future strategy for acquisitions?

Procedurals are doing very well in prime for our competitors like USA and TNT. You have to sustain a very high rating over a very long period of time to make money on these shows. If we were to buy a show, we wouldn't even get it for another couple of years, so we'd be betting on where the market is going to be six to seven years from now. As good as these shows are, when you have eight on network television and eight stripped on cable, there are hundreds of hours of this kind of programming. We want to create our own assets with originals, and we've been aggressive about spending and managing our inventory of movies and sitcoms like [recent acquisitions] That '70s Show and Spin City. NASCAR is a very valuable property for us, too.

So far it hasn't been a good strategy for us to pay the extremely expensive rate for a procedural. Our originals are quite different in approach, and I don't know if a procedural would go well with them.

Now you're venturing into situation comedy. How will your sitcoms differ from what's already out there?

If you look at the average sitcom, there's sameness in pacing, story structure and rhythm. We have a coherent brand, but our shows are distinct from each other because we support the creatives in finding specific points of view for their shows. These two comedies [Sunny and Starved] are distinctive in tone. The basic cable brands that program comedy—Comedy Central, MTV—are teen brands that target 18-34. We program to adults 18-49. Our median age is between 35 and 38, so these are shows that have a little more edge to them and deal with subject matter and characters that network television wouldn't deal with. They're an attempt to bring the underlying quality of FX dramas into the comedy brand.

With your edgy content, where do you stand on a possible crackdown on indecency on cable?

We really are the poster child for responsible creation of adult programming. Our adult shows are always scheduled after 10 p.m. and labeled 'TV-MA.' The V-chip screens them, and we have detailed content warnings at the beginning and coming out of commercials. We've never marketed to kids and teens. More than 95% of our original shows' audience is 18 plus. When people continue to target these shows, that's just censorship. We've set ourselves up to the artistic possibilities of television. We've won the Golden Globes, we have the No. 1 show three years running in 18-49—clearly we're doing something right with critics and audiences. We're an outlet for gifted creative artists, and if people out there don't like that, they should simply not watch.

What challenges does FX currently face?

It is always a challenge to foster programming as good as The Shield, Rescue Me and Nip/Tuck. I've done it in every capacity—as a network executive, a producer, a writer—for 20 years, and it's really, really hard. It's also a challenge to keep the shows on the air as good as they are, and to broaden our brand to documentary and comedy programming, and let audiences know we're a broad channel and appeal to women as well as men. We have aggressive, smart, well-funded competitors. Many others are going into the originals business. They've seen what we've achieved and they're trying to get a piece of it—TNT, USA, Spike.

Many think of FX as a male-skewing network—what's the actual breakdown?

The Shield is 58% male, Rescue Me is 52%, Nip/Tuck is 40%. If you average those, it's basically 50/50. [Nip/Tuck's] Joely Richardson has gotten really important Golden Globe nominations. It was a tremendous honor to get Glenn Close on The Shield. You'll see significant female characters in all the shows going forward. We're not a network about men, we're a network about quality.

FX is becoming known for landing big-name creative talent—anyone else you care to say you're working with in the future?

In the year I've been here, we're hearing from talent that we're the first choice to do something original and adult, and not a procedural or a sitcom. It's come down to us and HBO, and we seem to be pretty neck-and-neck. We've created an extremely hospitable environment for directors and producers. We don't create these series, they do—so it's only appropriate to give them the respect and creative freedom they deserve.

Besides FX, what do you watch on TV?

Chappelle's Show, The Daily Show, Da Ali G. Show, The Sopranos, Front Line and 60 Minutes. I'm looking forward to catching up with Lost this summer. I didn't see it this year. We're producing 92 original episodes this year, so between scripts and rough cuts, most of my joyful television time is watching FX shows.