FX Chairman John Landgraf Gives an Update on the Brand’s Important Role in Disney’s Streaming Landscape

FX simply would not exist at this point without Disney and Hulu, and I am so deeply grateful that they have enabled our brand of programming to make a successful transition to streaming,” said Chairman of FX Content & FX Productions John Landgraf during an executive session at the TCA Winter Press Tour. Landgraf is famous for his state of the industry TCA presentations, which have evolved since FX became part of The Walt Disney Company, focusing less on FX’s individual achievements and more on its place as a prestige brand within Disney’s entertainment portfolio. “The majority of viewing of all of our shows now is on Hulu, not the channel,” he revealed, echoing a similar statement made by Craig Erwich about how Freeform content is consumed.

(Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup for FX Networks)

(Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup for FX Networks)

“There's a really big turnover happening in the FX slate right now,” John Landgraf lamented when asked about the number of long-running shows that recently ended, or have announced an upcoming end. For example, What We Do in the Shadows will wrap up with its upcoming sixth season. “That puts an enormous amount of pressure on me and the development team. More shows turning over at one time than I'm comfortable with, but the flip side of that is that creates a lot of excitement because it creates a lot of opportunity to find and launch new things. But it's always a little daunting when you have shows this good. You always feel like how the heck am I going to ever find something that can replace it?”

Luckily, FX has a great track record of introducing new viral sensations like The Bear. Landgraf took a moment to congratulate Feud: Capote Vs. the Swans on being the number one show on Hulu. Executive produced by Ryan Murphy, the series is the first follow-up in the anthology series that started in 2017 with Feud: Bette and Joan, and Murphy is the creative driver behind several FX anthology series, including iterations of American [BLANK] Story. Asked about where things stand on each of these shows, Landgraf shared that he is at Ryan Murphy’s mercy. “He’s working on a whole bunch of new things for us right now that I'm really excited about, that I think he'll be announcing relatively soon. And there's always a lot of ideas circulating about potential new seasons of American Crime Story or American Sports Story or American Love Story or Feud, but I sort of never know which one he's going to latch onto next.”

Another creative that FX has an evolving working relationship with is Noah Hawley, mastermind behind Legion and Fargo, and the driving force behind the highly anticipated Alien series. “[Noah Hawley] gets on a plane for Thailand in several weeks,” Landgraf shared about the filming location for the Alien series. “[It’s a] big, imaginative reimagining of that franchise. It was really fun to watch him sort of take on the Alien franchise in the way I watched him take on Fargo, try to figure out how to deconstruct where did the magic of it come from, what were the key ingredients, and how can I deliver those ingredients in a different way without just repeating things that have been done before. I love the scripts, and the production, and the cast that we've put together. I'm really excited about this, and it's designed to be an ongoing series.” John Landgraf also gave an update on when fans can expect to see Alien – Sometime in 2025. “There's a lot of special effects.”

Like Alien, based on the hit 20th Century Studios sci-fi films, FX is mining the larger Disney company for other IP to develop. An example is a series that was paneled at TCA, Clipped, based on the ESPN 30-for-30 podcast “The Sterling Affairs.” John Landgraf shared his excitement for Shōgun, a more authentic series adaptation of James Clavell’s classic novel that pairs it with the real history of Japan’s Sengoku Period. It seemed like a natural project to partner with National Geographic to provide historical context for viewers. “There's an enormous amount of really beautifully rendered companion media with Shōgun. I mean, it's a deeply immersive experience watching it, but the piece I reference, it's seven minutes long that we actually built in-house and animated. It’s lush and gorgeous. There's a whole thing in The New York Times right now about various different aspects of Japanese culture. Could the National Geographic Magazine have been a part of that? I think so.”

An opportunity may have been missed in the lead-up to the February 27th launch of Shōgun, but that doesn’t mean a Nat Geo partnership on the series isn’t possible. “We can't put all of our eggs in the basket of the first day because no matter what, that first day is going to represent a tiny minority of how people watch it,” Landgraf shared about a TV marketing strategy that has changed since viewership shifted away from broadcast towards streaming. Before streaming, new shows often lived and died by the success of their debut, but with viewer trends highlighting a large percentage who prefers to wait and binge, that’s all changed. “We're going to have to hold back some money for the binge at the end and remarket the binge.”

The biggest challenge for a new show in a streaming world is that series aren’t just competing against other new content, but a deep library of programming. This is why it’s not only important to launch successful shows but keep them going for many seasons. “If you look at where the actual hours of consumption are, they're in Friends and The Office, and we can go on and on. There's a reason why when Suits goes on a streaming platform it gets billions of hours of consumption. It's because that's a kind of television people really love.” Making things even more challenging is the rising cost of building a new series. “Television shows start at such an expensive rate. We have so many shows from The Shield to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and many that started with such modest budgets that even if they weren't on fire out the gate, we could afford to renew them and believe in them creatively. That gets harder to do when something is super expensive.”

While John Landgraf can’t predict the future, he is optimistic about Disney’s streaming platforms and FX’s role in helping to make them a success. FX Productions has been making original programming for two decades, a fifth of The Walt Disney Company’s 100-year lifetime. “Pinocchio still has value. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs still has value. Investing that kind of lavish attention in extraordinary quality, something that stands the test of time, and then marketing it, creates an enormous connection between the audience and the characters, and then that pays dividends over, and over, and over again. Frankly, we're like a junior, an adolescent following the same path as our much, much older, more experienced parent in that regard.”

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Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).