As part of the TCA Press Tour presentation for FX, President & General Manager John Landgraf took some time to talk about their current hit series and how they determine the format and renewal for their shows. During the interview, Landgraf talked about how they came to the decision to end Justified with six seasons, the format for Fargo, why they chose to order a second season of The Bridge, and hinted at what the fourth season of American Horror Story will look like. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
JOHN LANDGRAF: It was really Graham Yost and Tim Olyphant’s decision. I would have liked to have more Justified. It’s one of my favorite shows. I just really love it, personally, and I have a long-standing adoration of all things Elmore Leonard. So, we talked about it a year ago, and they felt that the arc of the show and what they had to say would be best served by six seasons instead of seven. And, regretfully, I accepted their decision. We’ve tried, as much as we could, not to make business drive creative and, therefore, not to either extend shows beyond their life span or cut them short before they ought to be. I can’t tell you that we’ve never extended a show longer than it probably have been, or cut it a little shorter than it should have been, but we really, really try hard not to do that. So, regretfully, that was their decision.
When you started Sons of Anarchy, you decided to recast one of the leads and re-shoot half the pilot. Why did you decide to do that?
LANDGRAF: Well, it didn’t work. We’ve done a fair amount of re-shooting on all of our pilots. I’m happy to say that every one that we ever re-shot – and I have an audience response from before and after – the audience response to the second version of the pilot was measurably better than the first. So, when you look at something and it’s not good enough and something is wrong with it, like in the case of Sons of Anarchy, we cast the wrong actor in the lead. Though Ron Perlman’s character died in this season, it provided an enormously important gravitational center to that show and counterweight to Katey Sagal and Charlie Hunnam’s characters. It rested on three sets of shoulders. And you can imagine, if you had the wrong set of shoulders in one place, it just wouldn’t work. There were other things we did in the pilot, too. A different director worked on the second version than the first, and brought some different sensibilities. So, we’re hypercritical about the work and frequently do re-shoots. I don’t think we did a single re-shoot on Damages, but with many of our pilots, you’d be surprised how much additional work we do on them now before they go on the air.
How do you decide when to order future seasons, and what type of seasons they will be?
LANDGRAF: Well, Fargo is a closed-end story with a beginning, middle, and end. And if there are subsequent seasons of Fargo, they would be sort of like American Horror Story or perhaps True Detective, in that they would be entirely different self-contained stories with different casts and different characters. I haven’t even heard a prospective story for a subsequent season of Fargo, so I can’t tell you where such a thing might come to exist. If you look at The Americans and The Bridge, they were virtually identical, from a ratings standpoint, when you looked at all sources of ratings.
With The Bridge, the biggest question was, did I think the show would be better, worse, or just as good in Season 2, as it was in Season 1. We tend to do a lot of talking with the creative people and soul-searching, in terms of what we they did well and what they didn’t do so well, and what the strengths and weaknesses of the show were. We often ask them to do some real thinking and talking with us. In the case of The Bridge, it was strong enough, from a ratings standpoint, to earn a second season. I really like the cast of The Bridge a lot. I think it’s a super strong cast, and there were some really strong elements of the show, last year. And I love the setting, the canvas, and the scope. But, there were some elements that weren’t as strong as I thought. So, the question was, “Were they going to be able to make a better show?”
What can you say about the next season of American Horror Story?
LANDGRAF: Ryan [Murphy] has virtual carte blanche, at this point, to do whatever he wants to do. That really is his baby. And while I and other people in the company still read every script and watch every rough cut and give the occasional note, I have to say that we don’t really have very much input. I suppose we could force ourselves to have input, but to tell you the truth, when I look at the inventiveness and the quality of what he’s done for three seasons, I don’t really see any reason.
By the way, interestingly enough, True Detective was a very hotly sought-after project. I and Showtime and HBO were all bidding very aggressively for it. And Nic Pizzolatto, who created it, told me explicitly that he got the idea for it from watching American Horror Story. True Detective is an anthology series, in the way that American Horror Story is. Nic’s conception is that they follow a murder case, but they take place over long periods of time, so they’re able to explore the evolution of human character over decades, and choices that were made as younger people and how they impact people as older people.
And back to American Horror Story, I think it will probably be a period piece again. I don’t think it will be contemporary. I know that most of the current cast will be returning, in some form, although I don’t know what characters they’re playing. Ultimately, I’m waiting for Ryan to tell me.