TCA: FX’s Landgraf -- ‘We Know How HBO Feels Now’

Basic cable net ramps up development of ‘adult’ fare to replace aging series, fend off competition
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As FX faces the task of replacing landmark series The Shield and Nip/Tuck and several basic cable competitors have found their own success with original dramas, FX Networks President-GM John Landgraf said, “We know how HBO feels now.”

Speaking during an executive Q&A at FX’s portion of the TCA press tour Aug. 7, Landgraf underlined what he told B&C earlier this year, saying the network is in production on more pilots than ever in the basic cable network’s history, with three drama pilots and three comedy pilots underway.

“There’s a lot of activity at the network right now,” he said. “You will be seeing announcements in the next 10 days to a month about these other projects we’ve had in development.”

Landgraf said that the network knows who it is now, and that’s a place for original programming for adults. “We’ll continue to make shows for adults, specifically for adults as opposed to families,” Landgraf told critics. “There is absolutely a place for programming for families. But there’s also a place for programming for adults. HBO and Showtime do it well. I also think there’s a place on basic cable and FX is going to continue to be that place.”

FX original series are TV-MA rated and the network schedules them at 10 or later. “For me what happens after 10 has more leeway than what happens before 10,” Landgraf said, though he took issue with a critic’s assertion that FX’s Sons of Anarchy is more violent than Fox’s 24. “I really strongly disagree” with the statement that this year’s Sons of Anarchy goes beyond 24, he said. “If you go back and look carefully, there is very little on camera,” adding that it’s intense because of what’s implied and the way the show is directed.

“FX has always been very careful about what you actually see on camera and how long you see it,” he said, acknowledging that Nip/Tuck certainly has featured its share of violence and how much has been a matter of compromise between him and creator Ryan Murphy.

“As a business person I would always air on the side of pulling the violence back,” he said, since it “can be alienating to certain segments of the audience. Also our job is to sustain and support creative voices” with the leeway to tell stories “as truthfully as they possibly can.”

When it comes to adult elements such as sex, violence and language, Landgraf sees clear lines of what’s appropriate for the network. There are words that will never be used on FX, such as the “f” word or the “c” word. Furthermore, “Violence is not part of our biz plan,” he said. “We’re not rejecting programming because it’s not violent or sexual.”

If Landgraf could find a show that was not TV-MA or appropriate to air at 9 p.m. he would do it. He also pointed out that the network’s lineup of licensed blockbuster theatricals include family-friendly fare. The advantage of launching a show at 10 off of a hit at 9 in powerful, he noted.
“You wouldn’t see (USA’s) Royal Pains doing so well if it was not supported by Burn Notice,” he said. “We had the no. 1 18 to 49 show in Nip/Tuck for 5 years.” He said he would “give an arm” as a programmer to have been able to launch something off of that.

Where Landgraf does anticipate being able to build directly on FX’s success is the comedy arena. He may pick up all three pilots and said the network has sorted out how to do comedy on FX with It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. While the canceled, experimental Testes was funny, he said, it was “maybe a little too juvenile.

In addition, while he admires what HBO and Showtime are doing in comedy, “sometimes a lot of those shows are not comedies. A lot of them are half hour dramas that are funny,” he said, adding that those shows tend to be expensive and feature top talent. “We’re trying to do ‘comedies.”

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