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TCA: FX chief calls for studies on violence

John Landgraf notes disparity between gun death rates in U.S., U.K.

FX Networks prexy John Landgraf brought the connection between Hollywood fare and violence to a primal place during the cabler’s exec session Wednesday at the Television Critics Assn. panel in Pasadena. He called for more studies on possible links between mayhem on screen and real-world violence, and he noted the vast differences in the rate of gun deaths in the U.S. versus the Britain, even though violent fare such as FX’s own “Sons of Anarchy” is popular in both countries.

In opining on why auds are drawn to shows that depict violence, Landgraf, quoting FX marketing exec Stephanie Gibbons, said, “We’re animals and mammals. Our greatest fear is death. To rivet people, you’re going to hover around life and death. That draws our attention most easily.”

FX’s most-watched drama “Sons of Anarchy” — about a motorcycle club that deals in guns — leaves a big body count in each episode, and “American Horror Story,” which also fares well in the ratings, doesn’t hold back on the gore. Landgraf said the cabler has never sought to run those shows earlier than the 10 p.m. slot traditionally reserved for the most adult programming.

As pressure on Hollywood mounts to tone down on-screen violence — with the White House probing not only gun control measures but the nation’s “culture of violence” — Landgraf called for more studies on the possible linkage between entertainment fare and the kind of violent eruptions that have made headlines in recent months.

Landgraf said he sees a big distinction between what he dubbed “third-person entertainment,” or viewing a character on screen, and “first-person entertainment” such as vidgames where the user becomes the character. He cited restrictions he’s put on his own children when it comes to vidgames.

“I have three sons. They’re 15, 12, and 9, and we don’t have Xbox or PlayStations, and I don’t let them play first-person shooter games because I’m not comfortable with that,” Landgraf said. “If you ask my 15-year-old, who has played a lot of it at other friends’ houses and stuff, he says, ‘Well, it’s kind of disturbing because you’re not hunting. You’re not hunting for food. You’re in a first person context, and you’re killing everything in sight.’ So I think we should talk about it. I think we should research it, and I think all things should be fair game, whether they’re videogames or entertainment programming.”

It was clear Landgraf anticipated a barrage of questions regarding violence, which has been a theme of the winter TCA. He had at the ready statistics about the rate of gun deaths in the U.S. versus the U.K., which has much more extensive laws on gun control, and he noted that violent shows from the U.S., including “Sons of Anarchy” and “The Walking Dead,” are very popular in Britain.

“The incidence of homicide by gun in England is more than 90 times higher (than it is) in America, and we consume the same media,” he said. “Same movies, same television shows, same video games. ‘Call of Duty’ is a very popular game in England. ‘Walking Dead’ is the No. 1 cable show in England. ‘Sons of Anarchy’ is very popular in England. Last time I checked, James Bond kills an awful lot of people with a gun…The major difference is the access (to) and availability of guns, and a particular kind of gun.”

Landgraf said he is eager to see how the correlation between ratings and violence-heavy shows affects “The Americans” when it premieres Jan. 30. Show, about a pair of married Russian spies (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell), features far less violence and death than FX’s other dramas.

“This is show about a marriage the way ‘The Sopranos’ is a show about family,” Landgraf said.

In discussing where FX’s programming priorities are going forward, Landgraf told Variety that while comedy has been a priority in the recent past, it’s the dramas that will get the most attention going forward.

Pilot of Scandinavian import and Shine America-produced “The Bridge” — about an American (Diane Kruger) and Mexican (Demian Bichir) detective that work together to catch a serial killer along the border — has Landgraf enthused. Show will likely be picked up to series and could launch later this year.

Other pilots are “Tyrant,” from “Homeland” exec producers Howard Gordon and Gideon Raff, as well as Craig Wright, about an American family who gets entangled in Middle East politics; and vampire-themed “The Strain” from Guillermo del Toro and Carlton Cuse.

“In the 10 years I’ve been at the channel, I’ve never been this excited or happier with our development than I am right now,” Landgraf said. “It’s like an airport where there are planes ready to land. There is no shortage of stuff.

Miniseries are a big part of FX’s future plans, as well. In October former HBO exec Gina Balian was hired to ramp up the genre and Landgraf believes minis, which would range from four to 13 episodes, will be a major programming component over the next few years.

When asked about how original series on streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu will change the game and create more competition, Landgraf said the industry should provide pressure to make sure ratings are made public. As of now, both Netflix and Hulu do not disclose viewer totals.

He specifically singled out Netflix topper Ted Sarandos. Netflix has two high-profile series debuting in 2013: Kevin Spacey in the David Fincher-produced “House of Cards” and the return of Emmy-winning comedy “Arrested Development.”

“No non-linear service has ever delivered a hit,” Landgraf said. “If he doesn’t release data, how will you determine is something is a hit? They don’t have to have a report card. I think report cards are good. They keep you honest.”

In renewal news, Landgraf said FX was giving a ninth season to long-running laffer “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and a 10th season was likely as well.

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