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John Landgraf: Financial Imperatives Can’t Compromise Essential Creativity

John Landgraf
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

This column is part of Variety’s Broken Hollywood feature. For more execs and their opinions on the state of Hollywood, click here.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about a whole host of challenges and transformations that the industry is going through: piracy; the digital transition; non-commercial alternatives, including the DVR; and fragmentation.

When I think about all of those issues, they really come back to one prime imperative: When we take the creative energies of the people who are making the content and sublimate them to our business challenges rather than taking our business and sublimating it to their creative aspirations, the creative suffers. And the more complicated a business is from a financial standpoint, the more challenging it is to put the creatives first.

Ultimately, we can deal with competition from over-the-top providers. We can deal with competition from Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus and anyone else who enters the marketplace. But we have to be as good as they are creatively. In fact, we have to be better than they are creatively. We have to be willing to take bigger risks, even if they are the so-called disrupters.

What’s great today isn’t good enough tomorrow. Ultimately, the challenge for our business is it can’t get timid. It’s got to stay bold and aggressive. And for me, aggressiveness is singling out the most original, risk-taking, best storytellers and giving them free rein.

Every year, my plan is to find a great show or two or three, as many as we can, and back the creator to the hilt and market it as hard as we can. A channel can exist in this market with one or two or three shows, but I don’t think a brand can. A brand needs a lot of really good shows. For those of us who are trying to be meaningful consumer brands, there’s just a constant need for renewal and reinvention.

As the over-the-top providers expand, they’re going to make many things that don’t succeed. You can’t make that many shows without having some shows fail. It’s really the aggregate of all the shows you make, and whether you continuously make your channel better. One year doesn’t do it. To me, a lot of what running one of these companies is about is building a culture of innovation, risk-taking and creative passion.