There are lofty expectations of FX Networks CEO John Landgraf when he takes the TCA stage for his semi-annual State of the TV industry speech, and he once again did not disappoint. Several years after he introduced the notion of Peak TV, or too much television, he coined another catch phrase, “gilded age of television.”
“The number of new series I’ve seen announced just this week, including ours alone, makes me suspect the golden age of television has become the gilded age of television,” he said during FX’s TCA executive session, likely the company’s last as part of Fox as the cable group are part of the assets that are being acquired by Disney.
As he introduced Gilded Age of TV, Landgraf also pretty much gave up on his Peak TV prediction that the escalating number of scripted TV series will peak before staring to decline after already revising it multiple tines.
There is “epic battle between various now very large companies that are going to be competing in the streaming business,” Landgraf said. “As long as that competition is red hot and as long as those services are scaling up, I think there’s likely to be a fairly substantial investment, even increasing investment in scripted content. So I think my earlier estimates that peak TV would have peaked are wrong now. I think it’s a ways away. “
He noted that “you can start to see channels beginning to scale back their investment in scripted programming a little bit and scale up their investment in live. But I think, overall, you’re going to see a lot of continued profusion in content. And as I’ve said before, that worries me.”
“I once said to this group that I thought there was too much television. But actually, in many ways, that’s too narrow. I think there’s too much story. There’s too much narrative. There’s a really good article by the filmmaker and writer Paul Schrader in the U.K. Guardian today that’s about narrative exhaustion. It’s about the absolute virtual impossibility of surprising the audience or providing something that feels truly new, because we’ve all seen so many stories from every conceivable medium.”
At TCA today, Landgraf was asked to comment on the departure of the network’s top drama producer, Ryan Murphy, who recently started his mega overall deal at Netflix. “He has been really prolific; he has been an important part of the FX brand, and he will continue to be a very important part of the FX brand,” Landgraf told Deadline, noting his series on the network, American Horror Story and Pose, both renewed for future seasons, and American Crime Story and Feud, both developing multiple installments. Murphy showed his continuing ties to his shows, making a surprise appearance at Pose‘s TCA panel today.
Still, Ryan’s exit is a hit to FX as he was the network’s go-to person for drama development. (Landgraf alluded that Murphy would’ve been involved in the recently greenlighted Fosse/Verdon limited series starring Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell.)
It the way Netflix lured him as well as Shanda Rhimes away from traditional TV with eye-popping nine-figure deals that evoked one of Landgraf’s signature colorful metaphors to illustrate the current marketplace for talent.
“It’s amazing for me to think Ryan Murphy is receiving as much, or more, as any professional athlete in the history of American sport,” Landgraf said. “I’m the first to tell you he’s a genius. I’m not all that worried about that part of it. We’re not the Yankees or the Red Sox, we’ve never had the biggest payroll, we’ve never been the ones who sign talent away from others. I don’t believe anyone can corner the market on talent.
“It feels like we’re standing in a crystal clear stream like in A River Runs Through It, and we’re fly fishing, and our neighbor [HBO programing chief] Casey Bloys is up the river, and then somebody comes in with a bag full of hand grenades, pulls the pins, throws them into the river, scoops up all the fish, and then says, ‘We’re better fishers than you are!” Okay, that’s some beautiful fish that just got blown out of the river.”
Since FX’s short-term 2012-13 foray into late-night with shows starring W. Kamau Bell and Russell Brand, the network had stayed out of the arena, citing how crowded it is. But today, Landgraf announced that the network is planning an expansion into “variety, comedy specials, and late night, and all of the various genres of documentary,”
When asked by Deadline about his late-night strategy, Landgraf started by saying how proud he is of Bell and the Emmy recognition he has been getting for his CNN program. “I love his show on CNN; he had a voice, we knew it, and I think he found the right place for it,” Landgraf said.
As for FX’s path into new territory, there is no rush to put something on the air. “When we start to talk about breaking into and addressing other genres it can’t be that we make something of a strategic decision that we would do that genre in this year and we then take the best thing that’s available and do it,” he said. “We literally have to wait until we have something that we think is good enough to compete at the highest level.”
As the Disney-Fox merger approaches, Landgraf has been widely speculated to continue running the FX brands when they move to Disney, along with possible additional responsibilities. Deadline asked him whether he would like to stay on with FX for the foreseeable future or would he leave after the transition, leaving his senior team in charge.
Landgraf did not answer the question directly but said, “I’m pretty close to (the FX brand), 14 years. I feel like it’s been getting better consistently. For me, a lot of it It comes down to whether Disney will give us an opportunity to make it better. if they give us the opportunity to make it better I’m really, genuinely excited about that. I think we have the best team in television across the board, we like working together.”
“If the transaction happens. I’ll have a new owner, aнd I hope and believe they will ask me what I think. I’ve been really grateful that Disney and (Bob) Iger have been so complimentary and so publicly supportive of the FX brand and excited about owning it.”
Earlier in the day, Landgraf summed up his career ambitions, “I don’t want to take over the world. I just want to make good television shows, and hopefully we’ll make a few more good television shows.”