Solidifying his place as one of the most candid executives working in TV, FX Networks President-GM John Landgraf spoke to critics Saturday morning about why he embraces failures - and is secure enough to talk about them -- during his network's TCA press tour executive session.
"You'd think I'd be discouraged" after disappointing ratings for the two most recent original series launches -- the failure of Terriers "from a commercial standpoint and the weak debut of Lights Out," Landgraf told the press. "But you can hear from the tone of my voice, I'm not."
He says in the face of failure, you've "gotta jump higher, gotta jump further" and tells his team "let's go to it."
All of the last six originals to premiere on the network - Archer, Justified, The League, Lights Out, Louie and Terriers - enjoyed critical acclaim and four also enjoyed solid ratings. Terriers' poor ratings didn't earn it a renewal and last week's Lights Out premiere ratings (1.5 million viewers) also disappointed.
Landgraf said the vastly crowded, competitive landscape for both shows was the biggest factor in both shows' ratings performances. "No matter how good shows are, the question is not, Are they good?," he said, "but are they the first choice to overcome massive competition in the marketplace?"
He pointed to other premieres the same night as Lights Out's debut Tuesday at 10 p.m.: The Game drew a historic 7.7 million viewers on BET, Tosh.O on Comedy Central drew a large, young, male audience and MTV's premiere of Teen Mom 2 drew large, young, female audiences.
Due to the sophisticated content typical of the FX brand, the network slates its originals only in the 10 p.m. slot. When asked whether he would consider moving an established show to 9 p.m. to help serve as a launch companion to new series, he pointed to Justified as the likeliest candidate. If ratings grow in its second season, which kicks off Feb. 9, Landgraf said he'd consider moving it.
When he cut Terriers, Landgraf made the unusual move of getting on the phone with critics to talk about the decision. He credited the confidence that comes with experience for being able to own both successes and failures. "You get to a point where you're capable of embracing your failures and talking about them," he said, noting that he's been in his current role nearly seven years and added that most execs are "fundamentally too insecure" to do it. "Maybe I'm just old enough now."
While critical acclaim is important, Landgraf also said it's not necessarily a ratings draw. If critics are unified in their support and are willing to stand on tables and shout about a show, they can help get viewers to show up. But most often, critics disagree, he said. In the case of Mad Men, which he called the most critically acclaimed show of all time, they helped the AMC show go from having "dismal ratings" to "ratings mediocrity."