As part of the TCA Press Tour presentation for FX Networks, President and General Manager John Landgraf took some time to talk about the growth of their comedies – Wilfred, Louie, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The League and Archer – the strength of their dramas – Sons of Anarchy, Justified and Rescue Me – their hopes for their new shows, including American Horror Story from Ryan Murphy, and what they are looking for, in the future. Here are the most interesting points:
- In 2011, FX is on track to achieve the highest ratings in all measures, in the 17-year history of the channel, up 17% in adults 18-49 and 18% in total viewers in prime. They have also achieved their goal of programming original dramas and comedies, all year round.
- FX has ordered a Season 8 and 9 of the acclaimed hit comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia with an option for a Season 10, making it the longest-running live-action comedy in basic cable history. In addition, FX Productions is entering into a three-year exclusive television overall deal with RCG – the production company run by Sunny creators/executive producers Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton.
- The full 13-episode third season of Archer will return in January 2012, with three episodes airing this Fall, behind the first three episodes of Season 7 of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which premieres on September 15th. The Season 3 premiere of The League will debut after Sunny on October 6th.
- Wilfred was the highest-rated first season of a comedy ever on FX, leading them to renew it for a second season of 13 episodes, while Louie has also been renewed for third season of 13.
- American Horror Story, from Glee executive producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, is being established as a serialized saga that can go on for multiple years, with subsequent seasons either taking place in the past or in the present, depending on how the story unfolds.
- Powers (in the vein of David Fincher’s Seven or Zodiac), based on the acclaimed graphic novel by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming and starring Jason Patric, and Outlaw Country, a family drama set against the backdrop of Southern organized crime, are the next two drama pilots that FX will be looking at for possible pick-up
Hit the jump for more of what he had to say:
JOHN LANDGRAF: It’s designed to go multiple years, and some aspects of the show will be closed-ended each season. So, each season will be a serialized saga that has a beginning, middle and end, but there’s a longer, epic, serialized mystery that involves some of the characters who continue year to year, involves the house in which the series takes place, and delves back into the history of that house. We don’t know yet how Ryan is going to unfold subsequent seasons, but some of them may in fact take place in the past, as well as taking place in the present, as it unfolds. I have optimism that American Horror Story is going to be a break-through commercial piece of television that’s going to be widely imitated subsequently, if audiences find it.
Do you think the ninth season could be the final season for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, or is that still open-ended?
LANDGRAF: It’s still up in the air. We actually have an option, in conjunction with this deal, to pick up a tenth season. We are just picking up two now, but we could go to 10 seasons, if we chose. I don’t know what stories they are going to do in Seasons 8 and 9, but I have seen all of the episodes that comprise Season 7, which will be airing in September, and I legitimately think it’s the funniest season, so far. A lot of what you are looking for is, “Are they tired? Are they bored with the show? Is the show played out, or is it still creatively vibrant?” And, judging from what I’ve seen, I don’t know if it’s a second wind or whatever, but it’s just uproariously funny. They are trying different kinds of stories on Sunny right now, and they seem to be working.
I think the possibility of continuing on a comedy is greater than a drama. You could continue Law & Order indefinitely, or The Closer, or another procedural show, but every show that we’ve put on the air is really an epic story of a character that has a beginning, a middle and an end, so it’s a challenge to keep these shows going. I’m really proud that we kept The Shield for seven seasons, Nip/Tuck for eight, and Rescue Me for seven. To end them prematurely and not tell the whole story is frustrating for the audience. But, on the other hand, distending them beyond their useful life is also bad. You have to find an optimal balance on dramas, which has to do with the showrunner and creator’s sense of what the saga is and how to tell the whole thing, from beginning to end.
What is the big priority for you now, at the network?
LANDGRAF: As far as comedies go, I have said that we wanted to eventually get to seven original comedies, and we’re at five now. The good news is that we now have year-round comedies and we’re a well and firmly established, successful comedy brand. That was really a challenge. If you remember, in the early days, we had really good shows. Lucky, for example, was a terrific show. But, FX had a lot of trouble getting traction in comedy, so we’re thrilled to finally have arrived, but we’re not done yet. We still would like to add a couple more comedies, over time. Now, there’s also a really strong focus on drama.
Not only am I really excited about American Horror Story, and very optimistic about it from an audience and a ratings standpoint, but we made two other drama pilots – Powers and Outlaw Country. That’s the first time we’ve ever made three drama pilots, simultaneously. Since I’ve been at the channel, we’ve made 11 drama pilots, and we’ve picked 10 of them up to series. We don’t have a cycle where we just go make a lot of pilots, and then pick one up. If we make a pilot, we’re very, very serious about putting it on the air. And so far, what I’ve seen from Powers and Outlaw Country look really good, so I’m optimistic about them too.
Since it’s a genre you haven’t really delved into before, what appealed to you about Powers?
LANDGRAF: Powers is a very well-regarded graphic novel. It’s an Eisner Award-winning novel, and they view it really as a story more in the model of David Fincher’s Seven or Zodiac, or The Shield. It’s a really gritty, edgy, very real, very dark cop show. It also happens to have superhero elements in it, but they are not front and center in it. They are around the margins and in the back of it. The lead character in the drama, which is who Jason Patric plays in the pilot that was shot, is named Christian Walker, and he has a really fascinating, epic, emotional journey. What we saw was the possibility to do a really interesting, different take on a cop show than had been done.
Once you’ve had The Shield on the air, it’s pretty hard to top that or even match that. You’ll notice we have not put a cop show on the air since The Shield because the bar was fairly high. But then, what we are always looking for is the emotional weight to tell a seven-season story. We think there is that with Powers. And, the superhero genre is obviously the dominant genre in film right now, and FX has bought most of those movies. There are some very well-made movies, but there is a certain limitation to what you can do in two hours, or two and a half hours. The form of the superhero genre is ripe for re-invention. Everything television has ever done in that genre would be the equivalent of an 8 o’clock or 9 o’clock show, meaning light, breezy and special-effects-oriented. No one has ever done a show that aspired to be a serious drama. I’m not saying Powers isn’t fun or that it’s not funny, but it aspires to be a serious drama, and it’s fascinating to me to try to reshape and reinvent familiar genres. That’s something FX has done well over the years.
Do you have a sense of when you might make a pick-up decision on either Powers or Outlaw Country?
LANDGRAF: We are going to see both of them. Both have completed principal photography. All I’ve seen on either of them is dailies, but we’ll see both pilots within the next month to six weeks. So, my guess is that it will be within the next two or three months that we’ll make a pick-up decision on either or both.