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John Landgraf: FX Has ‘Hit a Ceiling,’ Hulu Will Fortify Brand

In a world in which more than 500 scripted series are on TV and streaming platforms are launching en masse, even the strongest programming can have a tough time breaking through.

FX Networks has “hit a ceiling,” said FX chief John Landgraf at the Television Critics Assn. winter press tour on Thursday, emphasizing to the crowd of journalists and critics in Pasadena that its new streaming home on Hulu will in fact fortify, and not dilute, the basic cable brand that he has built.

“My point of view is the FX brand, which has been at the very top of the heap in terms of basic cable… we worked all way to the very top of basic cable and then we hit a ceiling, because basic cable can’t go beyond its own ceiling, by virtue of the fact that even though it’s in 85 million homes, which is a lot – it’s not growing in terms of usage, it’s not growing in terms of expansion,” said Landgraf. “And so I think the brand hit a ceiling. And I think what FX on Hulu does is allows us to do is aggregate all our strength on linear channels… with a new 30 million-ish homes and growing. I think it’s going to make the FX brand actually more valuable really, because I think it’s going to penetrate more deeply into American culture.”

He also revealed his latest count of TV shows on the air: 532 scripted series in 2019, marking a 7% year-over-year increase. That total is likely to increase “substantially” in 2020, “which to me is just bananas,” said Landgraf.

The FX chief spent a not insignificant amount of his time on stage touting the strength of the network’s relatively new corporate parent, Disney, and defending the rollout of FX programming on streaming platform Hulu, which is being branded “FX on Hulu.”

The debut of FX on Hulu will be two-fold. The first phase, which rolls out March 2, includes the launch of FX’s library of 40 old and current and shows on the streaming platform. “Breeders,” “Dave,” “Cake,” “Better Things” and “The Most Dangerous Animal of All” will premiere on FX between March 2 and March 7, then debut on Hulu a day after the linear launch.

The second phase, which kicks off April 15, includes the exclusive premiere of “Mrs. America” on FX’s hub on Hulu, followed by “What We Do In the Shadows,” “Fargo” and a docuseries.

That notably marks a shift in FX’s strategy of curated, spaced-out launches of new shows. While Landgraf said that “flooding the zone” is not FX’s traditional style, he did say that one of the reasons why he clustered the launch of shows on FX on Hulu is to “bring a tonnage of quality” to the market in order to be part of the popular conversation

“But ultimately we’re a one at a time business,” he said.

Landgraf said that MVPDs will continue to be an “incredibly important” part of the business.

“Hulu does not take away from that,” he said. FX, pre-Disney, had limited streaming capabilities in an ad-supported environment. Its new streaming home will offer an ad-free experience and allow FX to “reclaim” its legacy and expand programming.

The cabler’s Hulu hub should bring younger viewers to FX’s shows. The average viewer of FX’s “A Christmas Carol” was 17 years younger on Hulu than on FX, said Landgraf.

“For us, it’s really good that we were able to get a head start on making things that have a real appeal, a deep appeal to younger viewers, because I think they’ll do really well.”

Landgraf, long a critic of Netflix’s self-reported viewership figures, acknowledged that how FX on Hulu’s ratings will be released is not up to him.

“The question of what Hulu does with its data externally is not my decision to make, I may be asked about it, but it’s not my decision,” said Landgraf. “Me personally, I’m in favor of transparency….but the industry is going through massive transformative change and where this settles out I don’t know.”

Landgraf also offered up an update on a few programs:

  • “Y: The Last Man” is in pre-production, and he has seen five to six scripts. Following re-development amid a showrunner change, the show is coming along “really well.”
  • The next two installments of “Atlanta” will not be ready to air until 2021.
  • “American Horror Story” has been renewed for three more seasons through Season 13. Ryan Murphy has not yet told Landgraf what the theme of those seasons will be.
  • Addressing the sacking of “Mayans MC” co-showrunner Kurt Sutter, Landgraf said he would prefer to keep the reasons behind the firing “in house,” adding that Sutter is still an executive producer on the show. “We had a contract with him, he had a contract with us, he fulfilled that contract, we moved on,” Landgraf said. Sutter previously told cast and crew in an email that he had been fired by Landgraf and Disney TV Studios chairman Dana Walden because of “all the complaints levied against” him for “being an abrasive dick.”

Will Thorne contributed to this report. 

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