Landgraf: FX nears breaking point

Marketing costs would hinder cabler from branching out

With nine series either on the air now or about to premiere, FX is nearing the breaking point.

So said network president John Landgraf, who told scribes at Tuesday’s Television Critics Assn. confab that the network, which not too many years ago only had two shows to promote at TCA, is getting to a point where it won’t be able to afford any more series.

The high costs aren’t so much in production, since FX Prods. can produce comedies inexpensively, but in the marketing dollars necessary to launch and maintain each show.

“I could see us having a dozen original series, with not much growth beyond that,” Landgraf said. “We’d have to have such a large marketing budget to sustain those shows.”

Promotion doesn’t come cheap — marketing a show for three seasons can cost upward of $30 million — and unlike broadcast nets that can tubthump in-house shows throughout primetime, FX doesn’t have an audience that hangs around three hours a night. Cabler’s originals all air at 10 o’clock and, according to Landgraf, 50% of the audience for those programs aren’t watching television before that. Of the 50% that are watching, 30% are watching the preceding FX movie and 20% are tuned in to broadcast.

A year ago, FX’s goal was to increase its comedy output and with the announcement that “Louie” has been picked up for a second season — as well as previous second-season orders for fantasy football laffer “The League” and spy toon skein “Archer” — that goal has been achieved.

Already announced is pilot “Wilfred,” which just finished shooting last week. Based on the Australian series of the same name, show stars Elijah Wood. Premise involves his crush on a girl next door, and a dog that only he can see.

Adding to the comedy lineup, net announced it’s ordering a half-hour sci-fi pilot from “Reno 911” creators Robert Ben Granat and Thomas Lennon titled “Alabama.” Show examines a United Nations peacekeeping mission where members of the U.S.S. Alabama are six years into a seven-year mission to maintain peace and enforce treaties between planets in their jurisdiction.

Garant, Lennon, Peter Principato and Paul Young will exec produce. FX Prods. is set to produce.

If “Wilfred” and “Alabama” are picked up to series, that would give FX six comedies, a number Landgraf said is an immediate goal.

While FX ramps up comedy, drama remains the net’s ratings sweet spot. “Sons of Anarchy,” about a rebellious motorcycle club, is set to debut its third season Sept. 7 and is the highest-rated show in the network’s history.

“Sons,” which averages 9 million viewers per week when DVR usage and additional telecasts are included, saw an 80% increase from season one and overtook “Nip/Tuck” in the adults 18-49 demo to set a new high-water mark at the cabler.

Next up on the drama slate is boxing skein “Lights Out” from showrunner Warren Leight, and “Terriers,” from Ted Griffin and FX alum Shawn Ryan, about a pair of slackers who find themselves solving crimes in San Diego.

Once those premiere, FX will have more originals on the air than ever before.

“We’re discovering the right size for a cable brand,” Landgraf said. “We’re ahead of schedule but not done yet.”

Minus “Damages,” which the network will now produce with Sony Television for two seasons on DirecTV and has been a kudos magnet for star Glenn Close and a handful of supporting and guest actors, FX had a tough day when the Emmy nominations were announced in July. Although “Sons of Anarchy” was one of the most well-reviewed dramas of the year, and was a TCA Award nominee for top drama program of the year, the show was shut out by the TV Academy.

“The Emmys live in their own separate universe,” said Landgraf. “We have a tendency as a brand, except for ‘Damages,’ to want to do literature of the common woman and common man. Does that affect Emmys? I don’t know. I can never quite predict that.”

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