Brand matters and CEO of FX Networks and FX Productions John Landgraf is putting most of his focus on growing the FX brand through the launch of its new network FXX and the introduction of its new video on demand app FXNOW. At the Television Critics Association annual summer press tour Landgraf rattled through the FX programming strategy and the network’s early-year successes — from The Americans being the most watched series premiere — ever — to the The Bridge following as a close second, as well as giving credit to Archer (the network’s highest rated comedy series), Graham Yost’s brilliance on Justified, and staples like Legit and Wilfred.
And there’s no signs of slowing down either, as fall is looking even better for the 20-year-old network with the launch of FXX in September, the Season 6 return of Sons of Anarchy on Sept. 10 and American Horror Story: Coven coming in October. Justified and Archer will have January returns. Louie will return for its fourth season in May and the 10-part limited series from Joel and Ethan Coen Fargo will debut in spring. Fargo will star Billy Bob Thornton in the lead role as Lorne Malvo. While there are no characters in the Fargo limited series that are derived from the characters in the film, Landgraf confirms that the series will manage to stay remarkably true to the film.
”All I can tell you is I think people are just going to be really entranced with that show,” Landgraf says. “I think it’s going to be extraordinary. He’s just managed somehow to invent a new version of Fargo that is really its own thing, but also is true to the spirit of the original.”
The rollout of FXX will help the network grow its brand to serve different age demos. Landgraf said they were looking to follow the HBO model, where HBO has it’s flagship network but has grown its brand with sister networks like HBO2, HBO Comedy, HBO Signature, HBOGO, etc. He was interested in following a model like AMC that has AMC, IFC, Sundance and WEtv each serving their own unique audiences.
“We’re going to have three channels,” Landgraf says. “One is going to be a little bit more purely focused on young adults, so 16‑34. One is going to be a little bit more focused on older adults — that’s FXM, say, 25‑60. And then we’ll have our mother ship that’s sort of adults 16‑60.
“Other than the fact that you might see FXX have some content that’s maybe a little bit more in the Comedy Central vein, I guess, or a little bit intentionally younger‑skewing, I do think the spirit of the brand will be the same across,” he confirms. “But the way I think of it is even if you like really challenging, you know, highly original programming, your taste is going to be different when you’re 18 than when you’re 30, than when you’re 45, than when you’re 60.”
Landgraf adds that their goal is to increase their output of original series from 13 scripted series to a network first of 25 scripted series over the next several years across FX, FXX and FXM. Plans are already in place to rollout at least six new scripted comedy series by the end of 2013. Six pilots already are in development including the already-buzzed about return of Billy Crystal to a scripted series in The Comedians; Death Pact with Tracy Morgan; an untitled Andrew Gurland pilot starring Nat Faxon and Judy Greer; The Last Girlfriend on Earth from Simon Rich, Jonathan Krisel of Portlandia fame, and Lorne Michaels’ Broadway video; How and Why from Charlie Kaufman; and You’re the Worst from Stephen Falk.
Dramas in production include two very high‑profile pilots — The Strain and Tyrant, both planned for FX. “When they were brought to the market, these were two of the most coveted drama series projects by every premium and basic cable network,” Landgraf says. The Strain stars John Hurt, Kevin Durand, Mia Maestro, Richard Sammel, Lauren Lee Smith, Jonathan Hyde and Miguel Gomez. “Tyrant, from Emmy Award‑winning executive producers Howard Gordon, Gideon Raff, and Craig Wright, tells the story of an unassuming American family drawn into the workings of a turbulent Middle Eastern nation.”
Another goal is diversifying their audience and creating programming that caters to an older demographic.
“Many times we get categorized, I think wrongly, as a male‑oriented network,” Landgraf says. That, along with being a network that only caters to the 18-34 demo is no longer the case. “I’m really excited that now that we have so many more dramas, we can make dramas specifically targeted to older people. I like American Horror Story and Sons of Anarchy, but I really get weary at the notion that the only valid taste out there is Adults 18‑34, and so everything we make has to be focused on that. I like some shows that are very popular with Adults 18‑34 on our air, and other airs. I like Downton Abbey too. And I really am excited to be making The Americans (pictured). The Bridge is also a show that has a median age of 51 years old.”
In addition to original content, the acquisition of first broadcast rights to Hollywood blockbusters continues to be a focus of the FX programming gameplan. The network acquires about two‑thirds of all of the Hollywood blockbusters that are released in North America, Landgraf says “and that’s a massively expensive undertaking. That means that we have more than twice as many films as all of our competitors combined in terms of films, over $100 million.”