TCA: FX’s John Landgraf: ‘We Have to Become a Heavyweight’ Like HBO, AMC

He reiterates his desire to see Netflix ratings, but also praises the service's programming

John Landgraf TCA FX Needs To Become HBO
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

“I don’t think it’s possible to be all things to all people,” FX Networks CEO John Landgraf explained to journalists at his TCA exec session. “To try to be simultaneously older and younger has a tendency to diffuse the brand, rather than crystallize it.”

Luckily, FX is broadening the scope of its cable offerings with the launch of sibling net FXX, a male-skewing net that targets the 18-34-year-old crowd. For Landgraf, FXX represents FX Networks’ younger side, while FXM, a movie channel, skews older. FX, to Landgraf, is the “mothership” network that casts a wide net across demos.

“I do think the spirit of the brand will be the same across [these networks],” the chief noted, while emphasizing that one’s tastes in television evolve through the years, and this selection of cable nets cater to different demographic needs.

The exec mentioned he gets “weary” with the notion that the only demo that matters is adults 18-34, noting that the median age for recently-launched FX drama “The Bridge” is 51.

“We just need more shelf space,” he explained. “We started the process for FXX almost a year and a half ago, and we’re going to make just a lot more television shows… It’s been a great luxury to spread out a little and not be so quick on the trigger finger with ratings.” FX dramas see above-average lifts in DVR playback, and “The Bridge,” according to the topper, receives over 80% of a lift with L+7 numbers compared to regular-timeslot numbers.

This increase in shelf space, Landgraf hopes, means FX Networks will be a contender with the juggernaut networks of the drama space.

“I look at the potency of HBO, AMC and what I believe will be a very potent brand in Netflix,” all of which Landgraf dubbed “heavyweights.” “We’ve been punching above our weight for a long time, and our management was very supportive in giving us more resources… We’ll have to become a heavyweight in order to be a top brand.”

Landgraf also took a moment to return to his winter TCA comments on Netflix, stating that he does still wish the streaming site released its ratings.

“If I were the mayor of TV, I think all competitive industries should have verified, third party info,” the exec quipped. “But I don’t get to decide what Netflix does, and neither do you. Another way to look at it all is the quality of output, and if you do that, you have to give Netflix a good nod. They’re making contributions to the ecosystem of television.”

Speaking more broadly, Landgraf said he “sympathizes” with Fox chairman Kevin Reilly’s frustration with ratings, since broadcast nets “get a report card every morning, and those report cards are increasingly inaccurate because they’re capturing such a small fraction of how people are watching TV now.” Since broadcast network revenue relies heavily on ad dollars that are driven by ratings, Landgraf sees how the use of that flawed “report card” can be maddening.

The chief drew some laughs in the ballroom when he offered a kudos to AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and Walter White, a character that Landgraf believes has “ended the nuclear arms race of darkness.” Response came after a journo asked Landgraf if the content on FX — with programs including “American Horror Story” and “The Americans” — could get any darker.

“I can’t imagine a protagonist darker than Walter White,” Landgraf quipped. “I think that’s the end of the road in out-darking each other… We went the opposite way with ‘Justified,’ where the protagonist is a flawed hero… I credit David Chase and ‘The Sopranos’ repeatedly. They laid the cornerstone of what I think is a great flourishing of the drama genre behind these dark protagonists.”