FX Boss John Landgraf on Career Beginnings and His Efforts for Inclusion

John landgraf First Time in Variety Illustration
illustration: michael Hoeweler; reference: michael Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

John Landgraf has spent 14 years at FX — first as entertainment president, then as prexy and GM, and since 2011 as CEO of FX Networks and FX Prods. He has guided the brand from an upstart to one of the most creatively ambitious companies in TV, home to Emmy contenders such as “American Horror Story,” “Fargo,” “The Americans” and “Atlanta.” He has also developed a reputation as a clear-eyed observer and analyst of the cable TV business, having coined the term “Peak TV” in reference to the historically high number of scripted series being made (454 last year, according to FX research). Before joining FX, Landgraf spent five years at NBC during the Warren Littlefield-Must See TV era, then worked for Danny DeVito’s Jersey Television.

His first job in the industry was in production at J-Nex TV. He then became development director at Sarabande Prods., where he earned his first mention in Variety on April 7, 1989, working there from 1989 to 1994.

What was your job at Sarabande?
I’ve had kind of an odd career. I was never an assistant. I had a job at a place called J-Nex Television, where I was a producer and a salesperson. So [Sarabande] was my first job in the television-film business. I was a director of creative affairs, but I knew hardly anything about what I was being hired to do, which was essentially to find, develop, sell and oversee television and film projects. This was a production company that was run by a man named David Manson, who’s still quite active. He’s been doing high-end stuff for us and HBO and Netflix for quite some time. He was a fantastic mentor.

How did that experience shape you?
What was so incredibly valuable is that David had me deeply involved in meeting with writers, reading, selling, producing, making shows, post-producing. Then I was hired at NBC as a VP of primetime series, and I worked for David Nevins [now Showtime Networks CEO]. David and I were the two people in that department who had meaningful experience on sets and in editing rooms and in the process of making film and television. I think it really did affect the way we related to producers. Out of 29 years, I’ve spent 19 on the executive side and 10 producing. I’m an executive. But I think my heart still is very tied to the writers and the directors and the actors and the sets and the people who actually make the things.

David Manson, Warren Littlefield and Danny DeVito have all worked on FX shows. Has it been a conscious decision to continue collaborating with your mentors?
There’s a personal feeling that I have that it’s very difficult to be unhappy if you show gratitude. Part of gratitude for me is continuing to support the people who have supported me. I’ve also been conscious as I’ve reached middle age that when I needed a mentor, the people in a position to mentor me were white heterosexual males like myself. It is much easier on some level when the people in the path to give you opportunities share your gender or your sexual orientation or your ethnicity. I think it’s one of the reasons I’ve become much more conscious personally and through the organization that I run now of really, really trying to reach out to and give opportunities to women and people of color.

Does the longevity you’ve had at FX help you work toward more diversity and inclusion?
I think so. If you feel like you’re fighting for your survival every quarter, every year, the tendency is to focus on yourself. Now I can think in three-year and five-year tranches. I can think well beyond my own issues or my own competitive challenges and instead think more about the organization as a whole and the business.