Nearly 60% of the writing staff behind FX Networks’ series — a programming slate that includes “Pose,” “American Horror Story” and “Better Things” — are female or people of color, said FX Networks and FX productions chairman John Landgraf at the USC Gould School of Law-Beverly Hills Bar Association 2019 Institute on Entertainment Law and Business.
That follows the network’s effort to diversify its directorial ranks, an ongoing initiative first spurred by a 2015 Variety investigation by Maureen Ryan — a story that Landgraf name-checked at the Saturday luncheon — which found that only 12% of FX’s directors during the 2014-2015 TV cycle were women or people of color, making it the worst network offender that season.
The revelation made him “really embarrassed,” and prompted him to believe it was a “failure of leadership on [his] part.” FX has since increased its diversity efforts; over half of its directors in the most recent TV cycle were women.
“We didn’t stop with directors,” said Landgraf, the event’s keynote speaker. He additionally recalled his decision to pass on “Breaking Bad,” another show featuring white men, in favor of Glenn Close-starrer “Damages,” calling it the best and worst decision he’s made during his time at the premium cable network.
“The decision to do ‘Damages’ gave rise to ‘Atlanta’ and ‘The Mayans’ and ‘Snowfall’ and ‘Better Things,’ he said. “We’ve gotten more Emmy nominations and won more Emmys for female actors over 30 than any network in television for the last decade. So even though I missed a really great piece of programming [by losing “Breaking Bad” to AMC], I think I made a good decision. … Our organization is better, in every respect, for having embraced the potential of our entire society.”
Separately, Landgraf mused on the state of the television landscape — FX’s research points to about 520 scripted series on the market in 2019 thus far — comparing the entertainment industry’s curatorial potential on more than one occasion to the world of traditional newspapers, in which a vast array of content producers have been whittled down.
The ones that remain, such as the New York Times and Washington Post, are “national treasures,” he said. “I deeply, deeply value the editorial quality of that.”
“I think the American consumer is absolutely overwhelmed with choice,” he said. “More choice that they could possibly pay attention to.”
Landgraf, who asserted that the TV market is at overcapacity, asked his research team to break down the tens of trillions of minutes of shows that American consume.
Of that: 12% was found to be “lean forward” content, i.e. first-window series that are watercooler shows, such as “Stranger Things” or “Breaking Bad”; 30% are live-TV programs, such as sports, news and competition-reality series; the remaining 58% are “lean back” shows, such as cooking shows, syndicated series or library content, he said.
“I think the optimal streaming service would have some measure of all of them, and that’s why I think Disney’s unbelievably strong,” he said of FX’s parent company in the wake of Disney’s $71.3 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment portfolio.
“I don’t think there’s enough room for every one of these competitive streaming services to be as broadly distributed as it needs to be to ultimately be able to be profitable and then continue to double down on investments,” continued Landgraf.
When asked about the subscription video-on-demand market — one about to be joined by Apple TV Plus on Nov. 1, Disney Plus on Nov. 12, HBO Max in the spring of 2020 and Peacock in 2021 — the FX chief acknowledged the difficulty of competing on volume with services such as Netflix, known for its deep well of programming.
Disney, too, has a deep well of programming and brands, once that includes Marvel, Pixar, Lucasfilm, ESPN, Hulu and more. FX’s place, in Landgraf’s view, is to uphold just one part of Disney’s larger ecosystem.
“What’s comforting is now you’re seeing large, competitive streaming services develop,” he said. “The way I would see it is: It’s not FX’s job, in any way, shape or form to compete with Netflix — it’s the Walt Disney Company’s job to compete with Netflix.”