John Landgraf, President and General Manager of FX, Talks AMERICAN HORROR STORY Season 3, THE AMERICANS, IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY Season 10, and More

     January 10, 2013


As part of the TCA Press Tour presentation for FX, President & General Manager of FX Networks John Landgraf took some time to talk about their current hit series, new shows, and what they see as possibilities for their future line-up.  During the interview, he spoke about the importance of establishing trust with your showrunners, having strong female leads at the center of their upcoming drama series The Americans and The Bridge, what he’s heard about casting for Season 3 of American Horror Story, the plan for the next 90 episodes of Anger Management and the tweaking they’ve done to the show, how he sees It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia having a 10-season run, and broadcaster responsibility, in regard to violence on television.  Check out what he had to say after the jump.

FX seems to have a great relationship with their showrunners.  What is the secret to having a show that does well, and giving them the freedom that they want, to tell the story that they want?

JOHN LANDGRAF:  I think maybe the most important thing that I or anybody at my company and any of my colleagues can do is establish a trusting, productive, collaborative relationship with creative people.  I think that’s job one.  And that can’t be a passive relationship because you have serious and difficult things to talk about with somebody who does a show on your air.  You’re going to have bad moments, and you’re going to have fights and arguments.  I don’t think I ever had any relationship with any showrunner, over time, with whom I didn’t have conflict.

That said, if you look at the more than a decade of history FX has had in this business, we’ve never fired a showrunner.  We’ve actually only had one person who created a show ever leave a show as the showrunner, and that’s David Zuckerman, who created Wilfred and who is still an executive producer of the show, but voluntarily and, in fact, intentionally handed the show to his handpicked disciples, Reed [Agnew] and Eli [Jorné].  That was his election, not ours.

So, we’re batting 1,000, in terms of retaining the creator of our shows, from the beginning to the very end of the shows, and I think that’s because these shows are very personal.  They’re not shows that are plug-and-play, where you can pull out a showrunner and put in another showrunner.  The dramas are like long-running novelistic narratives.  They’re like 90-hour movies, and the author of the character and the author of the thematic material needs to complete the journey.  I think many of you would agree that there have been a lot of really great shows, and some shows that have finished up really well.  I think The Shield is right up there in the top five or the top ten, in terms of the best finishes.  What would that show have been, if Shawn Ryan hadn’t been the guy that wrote the last season?

keri-russell-the-americansWhat does it mean for the development of the FX brand to have strong female characters in lead roles, with both The Americans and The Bridge?

LANDGRAF:  We have a ten-year tradition now of having really extraordinarily strong, complex female characters because, truthfully, the watchers of scripted, character-based drama is more female than male.  We’re a very unusual channel, in that we get as much or sometimes more male viewers of character-driven, scripted dramas as we do female.  And we made a very concerted effort, in phase two of our development as a channel, after The Shield, Rescue Me and Nip/Tuck, with Dirt, The Riches and Damages on the air.  All three of those were shows that either had female leads or female co-leads.  So, from the earliest time that I had the opportunity to start making decisions about what we would put on the air, I have felt really strongly that I don’t think FX should be a male or a female brand.  I think it should be a brand, like HBO or Showtime, that appeals to both.  What’s difficult is that women are the primary target of drama-producing networks, and have been for 50 years, 60 years, 70 years.  When we put a show on the air, the people that tend to pay the most attention to our shows are men because, for whatever reason, it’s a combination of the fact that men have gotten a lot of shows on our air that they really like and that women are getting a lot of shows that they really like on other channels.  We struggle a little with that, but we’re hoping, very strongly, with both The Bridge and The Americans.  The Bridge is a great pilot with two great performances.  I’m hoping we can make both of those shows work. 

Do you have a sense yet of which cast members from American Horror Story will be back for Season 3?

LANDGRAF:  I leave that to Ryan [Murphy].  I think Jessica Lange will be back, but I’m not sure.  That is such an auteur work, on Ryan’s part.  He tells me what he’s going to do, and I say, “Great!”

Anger Management kicked off its first run with a lot of attention, and now it’s coming back again.  What is your plan for rolling out the next 90 episodes?

LANDGRAF:  It will basically stay on the air, without interruption, for two years.  We essentially have 45 new episodes a year, and we wouldn’t program for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  There will be a couple weeks when there’s a major sporting event that we would take off, anyway.  So, we’ll take six weeks off a year, but other than that, there will be a new original episode of Anger Management on Thursday nights at 9:00 for two years.

anger-management-posterHave you done any tweaking since that first run of episodes?

LANDGRAF:  Yeah.  We think Martin Sheen is a great actor, both comedically and dramatically.  He is Charlie Sheen’s father, and he plays Charlie Sheen’s father in the show.  He came in as a guest star, and we asked for the producers and for Lionsgate, who’s the studio that produces it, to reach out and try to bring him in as a regular character, and they did.  So, in something like every third episode, Martin Sheen will be appearing.  When I looked at the series, I thought it would be a better series, if it were also a multi-generational family series that was ultimately about Charlie’s character as the middle generation, with his father present as a meaningful character, along with his ex-wife and his daughter.  I think they’ll continue to build out the ensemble.  They’ve got 90 episodes.  They’re probably going to introduce a lot of characters, over time.

How long is the sun still likely to shine on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?

LANDGRAF:  Well, we picked up the ninth season, and I think there’s a high likelihood there will be at least a tenth season.  Ten years is an awfully good run, for any scripted series.  Whether it goes on beyond that will be a function of whether the people that created it want to continue to make it after that, and whether they feel they still have stories to tell that are innovative and that make people laugh, and whether the audience still wants to watch it.  But, there will definitely be one more year, and I would say probably two.

JOHN LANDGRAFWhat’s your take about broadcaster responsibility, in regard to violence on television?

JOHN LANDGRAF:  For me, personally, I’m more comfortable with what I would call third-person entertainment, meaning watching a character that’s explicitly not me and experiencing something through a character’s eyes, than what I would call first-person entertainment, which is a video game in which I am the character.  I have three sons, who are 15, 12 and 9, and we don’t have an Xbox or PlayStation, and I don’t let them play first-person shooter games because I’m not comfortable with that.  If you ask my 15-year-old, who has played a lot of it at his friends’ houses, he says, “Well, it’s disturbing because you’re not hunting for food.  You’re in a first-person context and you’re killing everything in sight.”  So, I think we should talk about it and we should research it.  I think all things should be fair game, whether they’re video games or entertainment programming.

That said, after being so upset and so horrified, sad and angry over what happened at Newtown, I went and looked at statistics on gun violence, and specifically gun homicide, and one thing that really struck me is that, if you look at data from Great Britain and the United States, which are two countries that share an awful lot and are socially fairly similar, the incidents of gun death in America is 10 per 100,000, per year, and the incidents in England is .25 per 100,000, per year.  The incidence of homicide by gun in American is 90 times higher, and we consume the same media, same movies, same television shows and same video games.  Call of Duty is a very popular game in England.  The Walking Dead is the number one cable show in England.  Sons of Anarchy is very popular in England.  Last time I checked, James Bond kills an awful lot of people with a gun.  But, America has 90 times more homicide by guns.

So, while I think that anything and everything that bears any responsibility for these kinds of tragedies, up to and including what we do in the media, should be fair game and should be looked at, if you want to look at the major difference between England and the United States, it’s access to and availability of guns and, in particular, the kind of gun.  I’m someone who believes very strongly in both the First Amendment and the Second Amendment, so I believe that we have the right to free speech in this country, and I believe that we have the right to have guns for protection.  But, I think a shotgun or a handgun that has a six-round clip is a very good, perfectly adequate weapon for self-defense, in the home.  You simply can’t create that kind of mayhem, if you have to reload.  So, we should be looking at ourselves, but I think we have to look at what is the most substantially responsible for this kind of violence, and one way to look at that is by looking at the rate at which it takes place in our country and other countries that don’t have access to those kinds of 100-round 30-round assault weapon guns, which just allow a crazy person to create an untold amount of mayhem.