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FX Chief John Landgraf: 'There's a lot of anxiety in the television business'




NEW YORK - APRIL 22: (L-R) CEO, FX Networks & FX Productions, John Landgraf, Denis Leary, Cuba Gooding Jr., Liz Gillies, and Louis C.K. attend the FX Networks Upfront Bowling Party at Lucky Strike on April 22, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Carol Seitz/PictureGroup/FX)
NEW YORK - APRIL 22: (L-R) CEO, FX Networks & FX Productions, John Landgraf, Denis Leary, Cuba Gooding Jr., Liz Gillies, and Louis C.K. attend the FX Networks Upfront Bowling Party at Lucky Strike on April 22, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Carol Seitz/PictureGroup/FX)

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John Landgraf, the CEO of FX Networks and FX Productions who oversees shows like "American Horror Story," "Fargo" and "Louie," sparked a debate earlier this summer when he said during the Television Critics Association press tour that "there is simply too much television.”  

Those six words sent shockwaves through the TV industry and sparked a debate that continues today.

As part of our series with TV network chiefs, we met with John Landgraf in his FX offices on the Fox lot. We asked him if he was surprised by the response to his warning that we are heading towards a point of "peak TV."

I've been in this business for more than 25 years and I've said plenty of things in 25 years — maybe some smart things, certainly plenty of stupid ones — but I don't think anything I've ever said has struck a chord quite in the way that the words "too much television" has struck a chord. That's been fascinating to me.

Obviously, it did strike a chord. I don't think that the reasons that those words have been debated and have resonated so much has to do with me. I think it has to do with the fact that the words seem to have struck a chord with people. 

Obviously, some people agree with what I've said and some people disagree with what I said, but I think there's a lot of anxiety in the television business that what I've said has some merit or some truth. Even if you disagree with it, there's just something that everyone who's involved with television is feeling right now, which is we're feeling — it's a bit of a runaway train.

John Horn asked Landgraf, What is the difference between too much TV for the business and too much TV for the audience?

They're two different conversations. I said two things: one of which was entirely subjective and one is more objective. What I said from an objective standpoint — and it will either prove to be accurate or not — is that I believe that we would have well more than 400 scripted television shows in this calendar year. By the way, we'll have more like 2,000 original television shows when you take unscripted television shows and throw them in. I thought that this year — this calendar year or next calendar year — we would see the most scripted television shows that America would produce and that there would be some decline either next year or the year after next from that peak number, whatever it was. So that's an objective statement and that's a statement about the fact that I think that the business is making more shows than it can sustain. 

Separately, when I said that I thought that there was too much television, I was making a statement also about the fact that I actually don't think that's optimal for audiences. When you give audiences too much choice, you create a kind of paradox of choice-- that's an idea. That's not my idea. It's been written about. It's been researched, the notion that too little choice causes problems for consumers, too much choice causes for problems for consumers. I think that we've reached near where there's more than an optimal amount of choice. 

Landgraf went on to clarify that there is an upside to the plethora of choices and the large variety of shows that are being made.

I'm not saying that the advent of many, many different points of view is a bad thing. I think it's objectively way better to have two to three hundred television shows than have fifty. I'm just saying that I think probably 99 percent of us could agree that less than fifty television shows would be too few. And I think more than 100,000 television shows are too many. But I'm going to sit here and say 300 television shows are better than 500 television shows.  

When asked about diversity on FX shows and the fact that many of the showrunners/creators are white men — Noah Hawley (Fargo), Guillermo del Toro (The Strain), Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story), Kurt Sutter (Bastard Executioner) — Landgraf said:

I'd like to have as diverse a group of shows and showrunners as possible. Interestingly enough when you go back to the now fateful decision I made to not make "Breaking Bad" what I made instead was "Damages." Now "Damages" was created by three white men but the reason I picked it up is because we had three shows on our air at that point — "The Shield," "Nip/Tuck," "Rescue Me" — that had white, male anti-heroes. And here came another show that was a white, male anti-hero. And I said, Well, you know what? I want to be more than the white, male anti-hero network. And here's Glenn Close and it's a really interesting sort of female anti-hero — dark, female anti-hero — and it was an interesting choice.

Landgraf  went on to share a list of new pilots or shows in the works that have showrunners, creators and/or leads that are not white men.

  1. "Snowfall," created and run by John Singleton and Eric Amadio, "has a young African-American actor in the lead."
  2. "Better Things," created by and stars Pamela Adlon.
  3. "Atlanta" with Donald Glover in the lead.

So we're working hard to try to provide more diversity because I think that actually is one of the upsides of more television is more, different, diverse voices.



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