FX CEO John Landgraf fielded questions at the Television Critics Association summer press tour Friday. Later in the day, he spoke with Variety about strategy, programming, talent, and the future of FX.
How did season four of “Fargo” with Chris Rock come together?
Every season of “Fargo” has really been a story that Noah [Hawley, series creator] wanted to tell. I don’t think we’ve ever known whether there would be another season of “Fargo” from the first to the second to the third and now to the fourth. And yet he seems to keep coming up with really compelling ideas. There’s something about the thematic material and the time and place and the vernacular of “Fargo” that inspires him.
One of my favorite characters in the history of “Fargo” is the character that Bokeem Woodbine played in the second season. That was just such a masterful character, and I was just so stunned by what Bokeem did with it, too. It just goes to show you that no matter how good an actor is, unless they have a part that allows them to show you how good they are, they can’t show you how good they are. Bokeem Woodbine gets that part and all of a sudden — it’s Robert De Niro. To me it was also really exciting that you could take the sort of lily-white upper Midwestern idea of “Fargo” and you could add an ethnic component to it. Now the idea that one of the key families, that a whole center of gravity of “Fargo” is going to be an African-American family really thrills me.
So we heard the idea and it was like, “Great, let’s do it.” Then the next thing we heard was yeah, Noah’s having lunch with Chris Rock. And the next day we heard, oh, yeah, Chris Rock wants to do it. And that was like 10 day ago, then, boom, the deal was done. And that’s kind of the way it goes with Noah. He’s become so revered in a way, sort of like Ryan [Murphy], that people just really trust him that when he’s going to do something it’s going to be extraordinary.
Noah’s schedule is insane, and so is Chris Rock’s. For production, are you figuring out where the two of them match up in terms of availability and building around that?
Yes. That’s the nature of television today. Everyone is so busy with so many things. It’s like what used to be the feature-film business. You’re just trying to line up the A-list director and the A-list movie star with the script and financing and location. Now TV’s turned into the same thing.
You talked in your executive session about growing and exploring new genres. Besides wanting to win more Emmys, why do you need to grow in that way?
For one thing, I happen to really love the television that’s made in those genres and I’ve been yearning to support and make some of the best television in those genres for a really long time. I’m a really avid consumer of two-hour documentaries and docuseries and late-night shows. I like variety and sketch comedy. And I think some of the best work that’s being done in television is being done in those genres. This week, HBO dropped a variety show called “Random Acts of Flyness,” and I had total envy. It’s defined as being part of the emerging African-American surrealism movement. I read about this show and was like “Oh, yeah, I want to watch that, I wish that we could do that.” So for me, the question is do we think there is great television to be found and supported in those genres and do we hope that out relationships and our curatorial spirit can bring something into the television world that’s worth it.
I will also acknowledge that even if you’re not tying to be a platform, i.e. all things to all people at all times, even if you’re just trying to be a brand that addresses one part of the marketplace, i.e. highest quality adult programming, how large in scale you have to be to be a brand that still rises to the top and cuts through and is still part of the combination — I think we do a lot with a little. Our batting average is so high. But the din of what is going on around us is so great that if we’re going to be one of the best and one of the most talked about, we’re just going to have to do more.
What is the biggest challenge you face in that arms race?
From my standpoint it’s finding something worth doing, finding something that’s not already being done somewhere else. The market is so saturated that finding things that are worth doing that someone else isn’t already doing, you have to look farther and farther afield. On the one hand that’s great. That’s how you get “Atlanta.” That’s how you get “Pose.” But on the other hand, it used to be easier. Now you have to be so conscious of what other people are doing and the notion that unless you have some way of differentiating this work from other work that may be similar, it just kind of blends into a morass for the audience. That’s a bummer, that saturated marketplace.
We’re starting to get a sense of what the leadership of some of the Fox brands might look like after the Disney deal. Do you envision yourself continuing to lead FX several years from now?
I love FX. I really love our creatives. I’m proud of the work that’s been fostered. And I really love my colleagues at FX, the people that I work with. It’s not that we never argue, but we like each other. Given the opportunity to make FX better, as I think we’ve been able to do pretty consistently over the last decade and a half, I will take that opportunity. To find a way to have FX remain a relevant brand would be really exciting to me. and it’ll be someone else’s decision, ultimately, how that would happen and whether or not it feels like the right way to go after it. So far everything that Disney has said publicly is exciting to me and feels right. We’re about to find out what that will be in reality. and I’m excited and optimistic about that, but there’s a lot that I don’t know.
Given that Ryan Murphy is moving on to Netflix, how much attention do you think he’s going to be able to pay to the franchises he’s leaving behind?
Actually it’s been pretty seamless. He’s got “Horror Story” on an annual cycle. That seems to be continuing. “Pose” is of profound importance to him, and that’s now on an annual cycle. Frankly what’s been slowing down “Feud” and “Crime Story” is something entirely different, which is that they’re not fiction. They’re based on true stories. By definition there are a limited number of true stories. Most of the best ones have already been done. So if you’re going to do them you have to have a reason. They take an intense amount of research or source material. We’re finding it really challenging to develop material. So we have multiple different things in development in these franchises. And it’s not just Ryan. Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson work on this too. But until you have scripts that are good enough, what are you going to do?
Do you feel like those two franchises will continue even as Ryan starts to take on other obligations elsewhere?
If we can develop material that’s good enough, absolutely yes. He’s got a big company and a lot of collaborators, and he seems to love and really be devoted to those. If you said to me, “Could there be 10 more cycles of ‘Feud’ or ‘American Crime Story’?” If we had 10 more great scripts, yes. “Could there be zero?” If we can’t find another great script, yes. Or anything in between.
And this is Ryan’s decision. We’re not going to make a cycle of “Feud” or “American Crime Story” without Ryan Murphy. So there has to be material that we and he feels is worth the time. I’m hopeful. I haven’t found any difference in the continuity of the conversation with him since he started his Netflix deal. I don’t think we’re going to be able to do both of them every year. I don’t see that happening.
Cindy Holland said that she’d like to do more “Master of None” with Aziz Ansari. Chris Hardwick’s going to be on TV next week. James Franco is going to be back on HBO. Could Louis C.K. ever come back and work with FX again?
I love Louie and I love his work and I miss him, and I miss it. I hope from just a fan basis that we haven’t seen the last of Louie. I think there’s a difference, which is Chris Hardwick was accused of bad behavior by one person. There was an investigation, and I think there’s some dispute about what did or did not happen. With Louie, he said that the reporting in the New York Times was accurate, and he came forth and — some might feel his apology was inadequate, but knowing him, I think he was trying to make a sincere apology.
But I think that the people that are on the other side of this movement, that is to say the people that are coming forth and telling their stories, have been suppressed for so long. They have a lot to say about what happens. So it’s not really in my control, is what I would say. Some of it is about what Louie decides to do, and some of it is about where we go as a society and when, if ever, we’ll be ready to have second chances or forgiveness — and who gets to be forgiven. Not my decision.
Is there any chance of reviving “Deadpool” with Donald Glover and Marvel?
No. I think that Marvel will revive it, because they have the rights. They own the IP and they have the rights to do an animated adult series based on any of the X-Men characters, and based on Deadpool specifically. They didn’t want to do the show that Donald and Stephen [Glover] wrote. We would have done show that Donald and Stephen wrote, but it wasn’t our decision. When Marvel decided not to do that show, we parted company with them as did Donald and Stephen. Now it’s totally up to them [Marvel] whether they hire someone else to do a different show.
Related: Deadpool Creator Rob Liefeld “Mourns the Loss” of Glover’s Series: