How Does FX’s Landgraf Measure Success? It’s Not All Commercial

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ATLANTA -- "The Jacket" -- Episode 10 (Airs Tuesday, November 1, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: Donald Glover as Earnest Marks.

FX Networks president and general manager John Landgraf might have overseen the ascent of FX into a top destination for cutting-edge original programming, but not even he is immune to the L.A. traffic gridlock.

At the TCA Winter Press Tour, Landgraf arrived a few minutes behind schedule, then rapidly read his introductory remarks that highlighted the critical accolades and awards-show honors FX garnered in 2016, the most successful year in the network’s history.

Landgraf noted that it’s been 15 years since FX’s first TCA panel, which was for cop drama The Shield. Since then, FX has developed into an envelope-pushing powerhouse of entertainment. In 2016, FX was tied with HBO for the most press inclusions on critics’ year-end best-of lists, with FX scoring high praise for The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, freshman comedy Atlanta and spy drama The Americans.

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FX is off to a strong start in 2017, with the recent debut of Tom Hardy’s Taboo, the February premiere of Legion and the March debut of Ryan Murphy’s FEUD: Bette and Joan. FX hopes the new offerings will offset two of its latest hits going on hiatus in 2017.

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After the smash success of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, Landgraf says that the next installment of the franchise won’t premiere until 2018, though the Hurricane Katrina and the Gianni Versace stories will air within six months of each other. “We just have really high ambitions for this franchise,” says Landgraf, who believes that the content is worth the wait. The shooting location for the Katrina story presents its own peculiar problem: Insurers won’t cover productions shot in New Orleans during hurricane season.

FX wisely recognizes the talent it has in Atlanta‘s Donald Glover (pictured) and signed him to a development deal. Season 2 of Atlanta won’t premiere until 2018, giving recent Golden Globe winner Glover time to concentrate on his role as Lando Calrissian in the Star Wars Han Solo standalone film.

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FX continues to deepen its relationship with Murphy and the American Horror Story franchise, committing to Seasons 7, 8 and 9. “We saw from the beginning that [Murphy] was an artist,” Landgraf says. “I think the depth and breadth of his artistry has grown over time.” Expect the future seasons of AHS to again be “shrouded in super-secrecy.”

The number of scripted TV series continues to rise, and Landgraf cites Silicon Valley for accelerating the expansion of original entertainment content. Landgraf thinks “Peak TV” could be reached in late 2017 or 2018.

But it’s in quality, not quantity, that Landgraf measures success at FX. He wants the network to produce shows that have “some enduring purchase” and impact on the culture, and will still be relevant and talked about decades from now. “We want to make good commercial shows and we want to be a part of the conversation in America,” he says.