Variety Honors FX Networks’ John Landgraf with Creative Leadership Award

John Landgraf has studied the mechanics of making television shows. He’s made a point to learn about the many jobs, above and below the line, that coalesce into the finished product.

The knowledge he’s gained over 25-plus years of working in TV has made him understand that often the most effective thing he can do as a leader is to be a supportive voice on the sidelines.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution to managing creative people,” Landgraf says. “You have to understand the intent and the passion of the artist. You have to really get inside that and understand what it is they’re trying to say. And a lot of the time, the best thing you can do is say, ‘Go for it’ and get out of the way.”

Landgraf, CEO of FX Networks and FX Prods., is respected across the TV biz for championing distinctive shows — from “Rescue Me” and “Sons of Anarchy” to “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “Louie” — and for his candor in addressing everything from FX’s shortcomings to industry-wide problems such as violence on screen. It’s not every executive — make that no other exec — who holds a conference call with reporters to discuss the cancellation of a critical darling, as he did in 2010 with FX’s dearly departed “Terriers.”

In Landgraf’s view, however, his most praiseworthy accomplishment is the stability among his core team of execs since he took the helm of FX in 2005, a year after joining the cabler as president of entertainment. The environment created by the work of a close-knit team anchored by programming presidents Nick Grad and Eric Schrier, program strategy president Chuck Saftler and marketing prexy Stephanie Gibbons is what breeds success.

“What a good leader does is magnify anything they could possibly do individually by wanting to hire people who are better than they are, wanting to create the conditions where they are supported and energized,” he says. “You can achieve so much more by supporting the work of others rather than trying to doggedly do it all yourself.”

But that’s easier said than done, especially when the stakes — and production budgets — are high. Landgraf found his CEO equilibrium through a combination of age and experience.

“When you’re young, you feel a lot of pressure to prove yourself and to add value,” Landgraf says. “As you become more of a leader, you start to understand that you should still stay as sharp as you can but ultimately your job is to bring out the best in others. That’s how you add value.”

Landgraf sees his role as CEO as analogous to a coach. He cites the “Pyramid of Success” approach taken by legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden that hinges on nurturing players to their greatest potential as people rather than a narrower focus on winning games.

“We have tried to build an organization where the goal is to allow creative people to do the best work they are capable of doing,” Landgraf says.

Before coming to FX, Landgraf spent five years as a development exec at NBC during its heady 1990s days, followed by several years as a producer and partner in Jersey Television. He learned the hard way that the most detrimental thing executives can do is to try to micromanage creative decisions.

“The more you micromanage, the more you push the writer, the producer or the actor into making conventional choices,” Landgraf says. “Micromanaging is about fear and pushing people to fit preconceived notions. The goal with entertainment is to move people — to surprise them, to grip them, to make them laugh. The best work does that in a way that is wholly original.”

Taking a page from Wooden’s playbook, Landgraf emphasizes that the most productive approach is to do more listening than talking.

“The key to helping people achieve is to really listen to them,” he says. “It’s not easy to gain the trust of artists who are brilliant and mercurial and perfectionists working under incredibly difficult, high-pressure circumstances. Everything you do in those situations has to prove that you are worthy of their trust.”

More TV

  • Alex Gansa Howard Gordon

    'Homeland' Creators Ink Multi-Year Overall Deal at Sony

    Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa have signed a multi-year overall deal at Sony Pictures Television, Variety has confirmed. The new deal means the duo will depart their longtime home at 20th Century Fox Television. In addition to Gordon and Gansa, Sony’s current roster of creators under overall deals includes Norman Lear, Anthony Hemingway, Gloria Calderon Kellett, [...]

  • Mel Robbins - Season 1 -

    'The Mel Robbins Show' Picked Up for Fall Debut in Syndication

    Sony Pictures Television announced Tuesday that “The Mel Robbins Show,” its new one-hour syndicated talk show, has been picked up by Nexstar Media Group. The show will be hosted by author and speaker Mel Robbins. It will debut in syndication on Sept. 16 and clear 90% of U.S. television households. The list of station groups [...]

  • Ken Kercheval dead

    Ken Kercheval, Cliff Barnes on 'Dallas,' Dies at 83

    Ken Kercheval, who played oil tycoon Cliff Barnes, the rival of Larry Hagman’s J.R. Ewing on “Dallas,” has died. He was 83. A spokeswoman at Frist Funeral Home in Kercheval’s hometown of Clinton, Ind., confirmed his death on Wednesday to Variety, but did not provide additional information. Kercheval and Hagman were the only two stars who [...]

  • The CW Renews ‘All American,’ ‘The

    The CW Renews ‘All American,’ ‘The 100,’ ‘In The Dark’ and ‘Roswell, New Mexico’

    The CW has announced a flurry of renewals. Three of the network’s freshman shows, “All American,” “Roswell, New Mexico” and “In The Dark,” will return for second seasons, as well as “The 100,” which gets a seventh outing. This means that all five of The CW’s first-year shows, including the previously-renewed “Legacies” and “Charmed,” have [...]

  • Gael Garcia Bernal

    Showtime Announces Cast for Gael Garcia Bernal, Jonas Cuaron Pilot 'Hombre'

    Showtime has revealed who will be joining “Mozart in the Jungle” star Gael García Bernal in the upcoming Jonas Cuarón pilot “Hombre,” which deals with undocumented immigrants. Marisé Alvarez, Greg Grunberg, Pepi Sonuga, Adriana Santos, and Noah Reyes have all been cast in the pilot, which is set to begin production at the end of [...]

  • Gil L Robertson IV and Shawn

    African American Film Critics Association Announces Inaugural TV Honors Awards Show

    The African American Film Critics Association will host the first-ever AAFCA TV Honors awards show to celebrate outstanding achievement in the field. The inaugural event will take place as a luncheon on Aug. 11 at the California Yacht Club in Marina Del Rey and present awards in seven categories. Winners will be announced on June [...]

  • Jedediah Bila Named Co-Host 'Fox &

    Jedediah Bila Named Co-Host 'Fox & Friends Weekend'

    Fox News Channel named Jedediah Bila a co-host of its weekend broadcast of “Fox & Friends,” giving the contributor a wider platform on the cable-news network. Starting this Saturday, Bilahwill join co-host Pete Hegseth, along with a rotating third co-host, on the morning program. “Jedediah’s thoughtful analysis and endearing personality have cultivated a connection with [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content