The TV Business'Man and a Half

FX chief John Landgraf follows his gut and defends his choices -- even when he sticks his neck out for Charlie Sheen and 'Anger Management'
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FX Networkspresident and general manager John Landgraf has established himself as one of the most candid, confident executives in the television business. Unafraid to speak for decisions, Landgraf will set conference calls with outraged critics to explain why he canceled their favorite shows. And he volunteered last week that he keeps a policy of allowing creators of rejected FX projects to shop their shows elsewhere, even if it means a series like AMC's Breaking Bad, which FX passed on, unexpectedly becomes a lauded hit for the competition.

So, hard as one looked during an interview at Landgraf's office in Los Angeles and lunch afterward at nearby Carmine's, it wasn't so shocking to find it nearly impossible to detect a single bead of sweat forming on Landgraf's brow as he anticipates the launch of arguably the biggest risk of his career: the Charlie Sheen series Anger Management. The show premieres on FX June 28. As long as he owns up to his choices, Landgraf says, his News Corp. bosses back his moves. That includes the one to make this first foray into original programming in the 9 p.m. hour in a deal that could see FX locked into licensing 100 episodes of a show starring an actor fresh off the most public meltdown in TV history.

In a Q&A last week, Landgraf told B&C executive editor Melissa Grego why he takes full responsibility for ordering Anger Management and why he thinks the show will post record ratings. Most network execs are afraid of making ratings predictions, but Landgraf does exactly that -- and not out of brashness, just out of his trademark honesty and analysis. An edited transcript follows.

Tell me about getting into business with Charlie Sheen: Why you took this on, what reservations you had, what's the biggest upside.

It really kind of caught me by surprise. I think anybody who is honest, who sits in a chair like mine, would have been a little skeptical about getting back into business with Charlie after what happened.

The body wasn't even cold.

Yeah. And look, we license Two and a Half Men for a fairly hefty amount of money, and I think Charlie's exit from Two and a Half Men really hurt that show. Its [off-net] ratings [on FX] have declined earlier and more steeply than they would have otherwise because in essence, when a show ceases to exist on broadcast, it tends to decline in syndication. And even though there is another show called Two and Half Men that stars Ashton Kutcher and the other cast members, the show that we bought, the one starring Charlie Sheen, is not on broadcast anymore. It essentially ended a couple of years earlier than it otherwise would have. And that's really hurt its ratings.

So not only are we obligated to continue to run and pay for the Two and Half Men that we bought, we are also obligated to buy the first couple of seasons of the Ashton Kutcher show. That wasn't a good thing for us as a client of Warner Bros., and the whole thing wasn't good for Warner Bros. or CBS, and it sure wasn't good for Charlie.

But I tend to take things as they come. I take them at face value, and what I found when I sat in the room with them -- Charlie came in with Lionsgate and Joe Roth and Bruce Helford and his manager, Mark Burg -- I really liked the show. I thought it was really good, creatively.

It was clear that Bruce and Charlie really liked each other. They had a terrific connection to each other creatively and personally.

The character is literally surrounded by women, and I think that's something Bruce really wanted to write about. And for me it was very intriguing. Because if you think about Two and a Half Men, women are really an afterthought in that show. It's really a very male point-of-view show. The song says, 'Men men men men men,' right? And he plays a character that has enormous talent, can get away with anything and has literally no consequences in life whatsoever.

This show is all about a guy who's struggling to reconcile the consequences of his past misdeeds and trying to find a way of integrating both the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde parts of his personality, and he's trying to be a good father and a good ex-husband. Charlie was really ingenuous in the meeting. It was clear to me that this is a character he really, really wanted to play, and he wanted his professional legacy to not be the debacle that was the end of Two and a Half Men. He wanted it to be something else.

You can look at the posters on our wall and see that we like to take risks. They haven't all paid off, but I think we've won more than our fair share of tough bets and we said, 'OK, then, well let's go for it.' It was consonant with what we do. So far, I'm really happy with the decision.

He did work for several years just fine on Two and a Half Men. How scared are you that Charlie Sheen will implode again?

I don't have a crystal ball. All I can tell you is, I don't think Two and a Half Men was a collaboration between Charlie and [series cocreator] Chuck Lorre. I think Chuck wrote it, and Charlie said Chuck's lines. With Anger Management, it really is a collaboration in that Bruce writes it, but he's really open to Charlie's input. Charlie is actually kind of delightfully easy to work with, to tell you the truth. His input is smart -- it's not fearful or picayune. And he's not hard to deal with. He just has some notes, and they're good notes, and everybody takes them. And the other thing is, the set is a really happy set. If you talk to any of the other actors, he just creates a really warm and safe environment for the other actors.

So look, do I know what's going to happen in a month or six months? No. No clue. I could just take it one day at a time and say that so far, it's been good and I really like the show. I think it's going to do really well. If the 10 episodes do really well, then we're going to go down the brave new path of 90 episodes over two years. And check back with me in two years.

You mentioned risks. This is obviously one of the bigger programming risks anyone has made in the last couple of years at least. UFC is not a small risk, either. You must feel pretty secure in your job to take them.

It's not just my job. This is a very well-functioning company. I can only tell you that between me and my partners in sports, Eric Shanks, Randy Freer and David Hill, between Peter Rice, who is my boss, and David Haslingden and Chase [Carey], I think there's just a really robust, honest, direct conversation. I feel like I have a lot of support from them.

What were the conversations like about these two big swings?

I wouldn't call the UFC swing my swing. That's really a deal that was driven by Eric Shanks and by Randy and David. Sports really sets sports policy. They ask our opinion...I really like that decision and that bet, thrilled to have it, but that's not mine.

For better and worse, I will take responsibility for the Charlie Sheen bet and say, look, I went to Peter and I said, 'I know this sounds crazy, but I think we should do this.' And like any good boss, Peter said, 'Why?' And we went through and we looked at the upside and the downside. But ultimately I'm going off instinct -- I mean, this is not an entirely rational process. You can make a list of pros and cons, and you can kid yourself that there is some mathematical equation where you subtract cons from pros, and if there are more pros than cons then you make a decision. That's not the way decisions get made.

Peter works very closely, very collaboratively with Chase. And Chase also weighed in and asked questions. But at the end of the day, what I found is that they'll support my decisions if I'm willing to take responsibility for them. And I'm willing to take responsibility for this decision -- whether it works out well or doesn't, it's my decision.

What were some of the bigger pros and cons?

The upside is the guy is really good, that he's funny, he's entertaining. If Charlie hadn't had the meltdown that left him off Two and a Half Men, he wouldn't have been available to us, right? So on the downside, we lost some pepper on the ball on Two and a Half Men...but on the other hand, we've got access to Charlie Sheen now. We've got access to Charlie Sheen in a situation where some might look at him as damaged goods, but I looked at a guy who wants to get his life back on track and redeem himself, and is aware that he had a kind of big public meltdown and wants to get his act together.

Will you be disappointed if this doesn't offer the biggest opening you guys have ever had?

I think it will. If you ask me today, do I think Anger Management will do the highest premiere rating an FX comedy has ever done in adults 18-49? I would say yeah, it will. Ultimately, what I care about most is, how good is episode 15 and how well does episode 15 rate?

[Editor's Note: Wilfred holds the record for FX's best original comedy series premiere among adults 18-49 Live +7 viewers with 2.33 million on June 23, 2011, according to Nielsen data provided by FX. FX's best original drama series premiere is American Horror Story, which debuted Oct. 5, 2011 with 3.14 million 18-49 Live +7 viewers.]

The awareness of [Anger Management] is extraordinary. It's tracking better than any other original show right now, anywhere on broadcast or cable for the summer. In terms of who is going to check it out, I have no doubt that a lot of people will. Anger Management is a preexisting title that people are aware of. You say Anger Management, Charlie Sheen, it's kind of a potent combination because obviously there's a real-life component to what makes it funny.

I loved the train wreck promo.

I have to give Charlie credit. We said, 'Look, we want to do something that's kind of big and bold and irreverent and risky, and we want to make fun of your public image.' And he was like, 'Great, go for it.' So the guy has a sense of humor about himself.

What exactly do you have to do to trigger the 90?

It's specifically negotiated. I don't think I'm allowed to say that. It's fairly substantial, though. And actually, the first two episodes don't count because we knew there would just be a massive curiosity...It's consonant with our best comedy ratings for our original comedies.

How does the 10-90 scheme fit into your grander development cycle? You've said in the past that a mediocre performer takes the shelf space from what could potentially be a hit.

It's incredibly inexpensive programming for us in that we're licensing the show for well below what Wilfred costs, well below the cost of The League and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. And not only does the license fee buy the original airings, it buys a four-year, back-end term. The way the deal works -- we have the 100 episodes for those two years where it's exclusive to FX -- it's not anywhere else. If we choose, we could let them sell it to, say, a Hulu or someone, but we don't have to -- it's our choice. After those two years, it goes into broadcast syndication, so it will be nationally syndicated on stations and we have a four-year, back-end term.

So you don't see that -- in success -- getting in the way of shelf space?

We'll make money on it. Unlike -- we don't make money on an ad sales-only basis on any of the original programming. None of it.

So this would be the first one in success, basically, if you hit the ratings.

It will be profitable...We have the back-end value and we obviously also have some of the subscriber fees that we are getting from our affiliates that we wouldn't be getting if we weren't making original programming. But generally speaking, adding a new original scripted series consumes resources. That's not what will happen with Anger Management. If it's successful, it will actually make more resources to make more original programming.

UFC, I understand that wasn't your risk, but it is on your network and it is your program. How is that going for you? The ratings aren't quite what you hoped for.

No. And I think that we put the show on the air ... I think that Craig Piligian, who produces it, Dana White, who really oversees it, did a really great job. I think it's as good a cycle of ultimate fighters as there has ever been. ... It's just a classic Rocky story.

As far as the ratings go, I think that we launched at the wrong time [the week before Daylight Savings time started, before Good Friday and against tough programming competition]. I think both [FX Networks exec VP] Chuck [Saftler] and I would take responsibility and acknowledge that.

So we'll see what happens. At the moment we're planning on the fall cycle-the fall cycle has always rated higher than the spring cycle, so if you go back and look at Spike's ratings, they always had a higher rating in the cycle that's coming up than the cycle that's passed. And I think we're still really bullish on that property and really bullish on the sport and really optimistic that we're going to do significantly better in the fall.

The fall's going to be better timing. And also if you look at Fox Sports, which is a really big promotional ... they're going to have NFL football and the World Series, so the amount of sports viewership that's going to be flowing through Fox Sports when we launch in the fall is going to be much higher.

And then if that works out well, what we'll do next year is, we'll launch the spring-we'll launch the second version at a different time. We'll launch at a different time to avoid some of the pitfalls. We'll take the hit in terms of the scheduling decision on that. I don't think Dana and Craig deserve it. I think they did a really good job on the show. 

When Dish announced the ad-skipping features of The Hopper, there were a lot of hands thrown in the air. Were yours among them?

I think we all live and work and compete in an ecosystem that sustains all of us. So I compete against HBO and Showtime and AMC and TBS and TNT and USA, but we are all sustained by the same ecosystem. So there is this thing: On the one hand, we compete against each other; on the other hand, we don't want to do things that compromise the ecosystem on a fundamental level. And I think we all look askance if we feel like one of the components of the ecosystem is doing something for their own purposes that threatens the ecosystem as a whole. And I think there is a perception that the Hopper is something that, while it may or may not be good for Dish, is not good for the ecosystem as whole.

In the industry overall there's been a lot of talk about the TV model. Some say that, like newspapers, consumer behavior is changing away while the business is just going along, and all of a sudden we will wake up one day and it will catch up to us and we'll be hit by a Mack truck. Are you afraid you're going to wake up one day and get hit by a Mack truck?

People who are writing the headline that TV is dead are doing it for one of two reasons. They are doing it either because it's wishful thinking and they want it to be dead because they are endorsing some disruptive technology or model that will thrive when TV is dead. Or frankly they are just doing it because they know it will get attention and they are doing it for money. Bluntly.

Nobody has put forth a cogent, empirically valid argument that TV is dead. So they are fundamentally, 100% wrong, and they're doing it out of, you know, less than ingenuous motives. Period. Is it changing? Yes. It's changing. I think one of the things that has really shocked me is that I was much more worried seven or six years ago when I first took over running FX, at how disruptive the pace of change might be than I am today.

And then the other thing, when you look at the fair-use rules, if you can take the headline and the first paragraph from somebody's news story, it turns out that 90% of readers just want that. The other 10% actually want the body of the article and want to go deeper into it. So you can capture 90% of the value of a journalist's work by what you can take from fair use. That's not the way it works with a television show. Think about that. Two minutes of a television show and the main title is not 90% of the value of an episode of Family Guy or an episode of Sons of Anarchy. So I just think the models are really different.

The thing that I'm curious about over time is that, anecdotally, I really do see fairly different patterns of behavior in young people than older people. It's not super radical in the sense that it's not that young people, in the aggregate... There are young people that don't watch television. But young people in the aggregate do watch television. They watch it on the big screen, and they watch linear channels, but they watch a lot less of it. And they are more inclined when they are young to watch shows on the Internet, to pirate shows, to essentially be their own programmer.

What nobody has shown me yet, and I just don't think the data set exists or I haven't seen it yet, because habits once formed, don't change that readily. So I'm not really worried about 45-year-old men and women who are married all of a sudden giving up their linear television subscriptions and becoming their own programmers. It's just not going to happen. Nothing I've seen, no matter-nothing anybody has ever put in front of them seems to indicate that's going to happen.

What I don't know is, is it the case that people have more time than money when they are young and it's a cool thing when you're young? Like we all made our own mix tapes-I'm dating myself-but, we all made our own mix tapes and DVDs when we were young. How many people do you know that are 50 that are still making mix tapes?

I did when I was young because it was cool, because you want to express yourself, show your own taste and you wanted to be different and you wanted to be apart from the pack. And you get old, tired and end up with more money than time and you eventually get to the point where you actually kind of respect people -- you kind of respect people who have shown wisdom and talent in being arbiters of taste for you. You kind of like to read The New York Times' best seller list and you have some radio shows that you listen to that pick out new music for you. So you become a little bit more respectful of your peers and elders, I think, as you get older.

So what will happen? Will these younger people who have slightly different viewing habits revert more toward the habits of their parents or will the new viewing habits be habits that persist throughout their lifetime? If they do, then you are going to see a gradual, manageable, but a pace of change away from linear television viewing and channels. No one yet has shown me any longitudinal data that answers that question, though. ... Until we know the answer to that question, we don't really know the future of the TV ecosystem.

Do you think there will be a certain catalytic thing that might still happen and drastically change things? Like certain types of behavior or, for instance, what's going on with sports rights and regional sports networks and the programming bills? How long can the center hold with people paying $20 per RSN?

If there were a significant present-tense problem in the system, why would there be 100 million homes that subscribe to cable and why wouldn't that number be changing rapidly?

Did you look with envy at the Fox broadcast Saturday night sports block? Would you guys want that for yourselves?

We'll always take meaningful sports. But at the end of the day, if you look at what a sport is going to earn from an ad sales standpoint on a broadcast network vs. what it is going to earn on a cable network, there's going to be no comparison. It's always going to earn more on the broadcast network, so part of what these guys have to do is, they're paying massive rights fees and they're trying to earn back as much of the revenue as they can, and certainly a good chunk of that revenue is earned through the affiliate value that's distributed across multiple sports properties from the broadcast networks to FX when we have sports to Fuel or Speed or Soccer or the regional sports networks, but in maximizing ad value there's going to be no comparison to us and the broadcast networks, so I don't second guess that.

Back to the question about how Anger Management might affect your overall development scheme...

I guess coming back to a slightly less business-oriented and a more creative, subtle answer to your question-FX has this odd dual set of challenges that I really don't think any other channel has in that I really don't think that HBO or TNT or TBS competes with -- I mean that USA and TBS and TNT, they don't compete with HBO and Showtime and AMC. They're not trying to creatively compete with HBO. HBO, Showtime and AMC are not trying to commercially compete with USA, TBS and TNT, right? There's one set of channels that are these niche, uber high-quality, prestige, Emmy, you know, AFI, Golden Globe channels, and then there are these other channels that are explicitly trying to compete with broadcast for heft and breadth. To my knowledge, FX is the only channel that simultaneously-it's like we're fighting a war on two fronts, right?

Why are you doing that?

Because that's who we are. We're not going to see... Creatively, to HBO and Showtime and AMC, we're going to try and make shows that are every bit as good as their shows and that are critically lauded with awards. We have a really, really big business now. We were a little business when we started. And from the standpoint of audience and breadth, we're directly competing with those other channels. ... So we're always going to be in the situation where we're going to want both a Louie and an Anger Management. We're going to want a really, really uber-premium, high-quality, incredibly risky, niche comedy that competes against Girls and Weeds. And then we're going to want a TV-14 sitcom that is attempting to be exactly-in its own way, what it is that Les Moonves is doing on CBS on Monday nights. We're trying to do both those things simultaneously.

[Anger Management] will be the first original show we've put on the air that isn't TV-MA.

Look, if I had the dramas that I thought could thrive at 9 p.m. that were TV-14 dramas, I would do that too. The problem is that if you look at USA and you look at TNT-I'm taking TBS out of the equation, just the drama networks-they're much older-skewing than us. Their profile from an audience standpoint is much more like broadcast networks, so they get a rich mix of broadcast viewers to look and so they can succeed. I just don't think we would succeed a Closer or Rizzoli & Isles or White Collar. They're all really, really good shows. But they're broadcast 9 p.m. shows. I don't think we could succeed with that.

If I could figure out a way to make a 9 p.m. show that was an FX-branded show, I would love to take over the 9 p.m. Right now, we're concentrating our resources where we have strength, and where we have strength is in adult programming at 10 p.m. It's the availability through this model of Charlie Sheen and Bruce Helford, and the ability to make content that we think can actually rise above and compete in that market at 9 p.m. that allows us to go into this area.

In your estimation, going forward-brands, channels-are they going to be more meaningful or less meaningful? Or the same?

I think brands will always be meaningful, because I think that they simplify the world. We don't have an infinite amount of time as consumers to vet every single decision we make as a consumer about every single toothbrush we buy and soap we buy and every car we buy and every politician we vote for and every book we read. We have to use filters in order to help us narrow the field of choices, and brands are filters, essentially.

So what is a brand? It's a trusted filter. It's something that's become meaningful to us, whether that happens to be a news brand or a political brand or a programming brand or a brand of consumer product.

Brands will come and brands will go. Some will rise, some will fall. But I can't imagine a world that doesn't have that brand filter in place.

Let's talk about the difficulties of measurement. We've been talking at B&C about how Nielsen's kind of like the DMV, right? We know its measurement's really not operating the way we want it to, everyone talks about it, but no one can seem to fix it. There is nothing else. You have to go there.

I'll give you a classic example. We put UFC on Friday nights. UFC has this incredible well-oiled machine of a program that essentially interfaces like 4 to 5 to 6,000 bars in America. Friday night is obviously a really big bar night. Nielsen cannot measure that. So I would submit to you that part of the problem we had with UFC this year was that a significant portion of the audience simply migrated away from their Nielsen meters in their homes, where Nielsen was able to measure them, to their local neighborhood pub or bar, where they still watched the content. In fact they watched it with more people. But it's non-measurable. That is an example of a situation where if we had measurement we wouldn't even be having this debate about whether the content is down or up. It would just move sideways. We just couldn't measure where it moved.

So what should be done? What should people be calling for, clamoring for? There's technology to do amazing things on this planet. How and why do we not have a better measurement system, and how can we get there?

Measurement is really complicated. It's complicated. And I am not arrogant enough to think that I understand it, because there are very, very smart people -- statisticians  and engineers -- who literally spend their entire [lives] trying to figure it out, so anything I ask comes with a caveat.

All I can tell you is that I think we need to be in a passive measurement circumstance. We could make a device that was carried in a person's pocket that picked up a television signal. Now here would be a problem with that. That's the problem-there is a problem with anything. You could be sitting in an airport lounge. There could be a TV on; you could have your back to it or you could not be watching it, and the measurement device would pick up the code and the vertical blanking integral, and it would aggregate you as a viewer. So I don't blame the advertisers for saying, hey, wait a minute.

The thing about a Nielsen people meter is that theoretically you punch a code in to say I'm watching television right now. So there is a dynamic tension between the advertisers, who don't want over-measurement, and the programmers, who don't want under-measurement. And Nielsen sits in the middle of that and watches people trying to do it. And that's like sitting between the Palestinians and Israelis. They have different agendas with what they want to do with that land, and it's not necessarily an easy negotiation.

Anybody who talks in absolutes in this business, I think, is just wrong. Television is changing, but it's not dying. We're still selling billions of dollars' worth of advertising. We still have an incredibly effective advertising business. There is no national consumer brand that isn't buying ads on television because it's the most effective medium and it still moves the needle hugely. Movie companies, car companies, product companies.

But it's also the case that the consumers are telling us through the DVR behavior that they want fewer commercials. And I would say that probably fewer, more relevant commercials will help solve that problem.

On measurement, I would say that you're never going to have perfect measurement. In relative terms, there is too much under-measurement right now. You could have a situation, by the way, where there is too much over-measurement. You could have someone on the seller side sitting there saying, we're paying too dear a burden but right now there is too much under-measurement.

FX Networks is primarily networks, but you also have a production unit, and FX is a brand that you can sell on different platforms. Would you see this brand ever producing something solely for on-demand that doesn't make sense anymore on air? An old favorite, like 20th is doing with Arrested Development, for example.

In general I don't think we're particularly interested in using FX [Production]'s resources to create value and exclusivity for brands other than FX or perhaps [Fox Broadcasting], which is a sister company.

But on the other hand, we do an awful lot that's just because of our relationships with talent and because we want to service talent, so I could never say never that there might be a circumstance where we couldn't provide an opportunity to talent that somebody else could, and we would say yes. Damages is an example of a show where-FX Productions' logo, if you look at it, is still on Damages -- we weren't able to move forward with Damages after the third season. Sony really wanted to move forward. DirecTV was willing to step in and fund that. The Kesslers [Glenn and Todd] and [Daniel] Zelman, who are the executive producers, and Glenn Close all wanted to move forward.

And financially, you were able to make that work?

Ultimately, we stepped back and we still own a piece of it. We still have a logo on it. But ultimately we stepped back because the alternative would have been to try and lock the talent from doing what they wanted to do in order to sort of preserve our exclusivity to the content.

Another example of that, too, is -- when we develop scripts, some of our competitors, when they develop the scripts, they hold those scripts indefinitely and they never let those scripts go to a competitor. Eventually the script reverts, via Writers Guild rules, after years back to the writer, and then the writer can do it, but as long as they can contractually hold that script because they paid for its development, they do. We don't do that.

When we pass on something, we let the writers take it back, and if they take it to one of our competitors and our competitors make that show, so be it. A notable example would be Breaking Bad, which we developed, we didn't pick the pilot up, so we passed on it. Sony took it and sold it to AMC, and with Vince Gilligan, and they said, will you release it? And we did.

Any regrets?

Look, if I had known that Breaking Bad was going to be as fantastic as it would, I would have picked it up. But do I regret releasing it? Look, the alternative would be Breaking Bad wouldn't exist; it would be sitting in our inventory. Vince Gilligan would hate our guts, because his dream show that he wanted-not only did we not pick it up, but we held onto it and prevented it from going to anyone else. 

So, no, I don't regret that because I think it was the right thing to do.

What makes you most hopeful about the business?

From a content standpoint, from a programming standpoint, television is the best it's ever been by a wide margin. Really, I think if you looked in sort of 10 decades, and you looked at television circa 2012, television circa 2002, 1992, 1982, 1972, 1962. You know what you would see? That there was exemplary programming at any point you checked in. There were exemplary programs, but the sheer profusion of quality now is greater than it's ever been. There's still a lot of really bad-there's always been a lot of bad television programs, and there were in every one of those decades. And there are a lot of bad television programs now, and there are some really popular, really bad television programs. But there's more good television than there's ever been. So I'm excited about the fact that the people who actually make this stuff, the writers, the producers, the directors, the actors, have more opportunities than ever to express themselves and to tell stories in new ways...

Creatively, I just think the system couldn't be healthier to the point where I want to rip out what little hair I have left, out of sheer envy for the incredible work that so many of my competitors are doing.

What are the top competitors' shows that you envy?

I desperately wish we had Game of Thrones. I just think that would be a fantastic show for FX.

BreakingBad's final season coming back. I think that would be an awesome show for FX.

What stopped you about that show?

If you go back where we were historically, so at that point we had three shows on the air-we had Rescue Me, Nip/Tuck and The Shield. So we were asking ourselves the question: so are we the male antihero now? Because if we make Breaking Bad, then we have four dramas that are all male-driven antihero shows. ... I just felt we were at a point where we thought, well, we're kind of branding ourselves into a box. Remember, we didn't have comedies at that point. Or if we had Sunny, it was barely a blip. So we would have primarily consisted of a network with four dramas, all with male-driven antiheros.

Now, I'd still, if I went back and you said Bryan Cranston was going to be in it and going to be as amazing as he was and Vince was going to be the unbelievable showrunner that he turned out to be and the show was going to be as good as it was, I would have said, the hell with it. Let's just make it because it's going to be that good. But believe me; it's really hard to know from a single script that what you're going to end up with is Breaking Bad.

To tell you the truth, you couldn't infer from -- all the scripts for all these dramas on air were all good -- but you couldn't infer that any of these shows were going to be as good as they were going to be just from the script.

If it hadn't turned into one of the very greatest shows on television, it wouldn't have worked for us. But it did, so I wish we'd picked it up. Nobody's going to bat a thousand decisions in this, hindsight's always 20/20. Foresight is never 20/20.

People don't want to make mistakes. But you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

E-mail comments to mgrego@nbmedia.com and follow her on Twitter: @MelissaGrego

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