From Ray Richmond, who is contributing to Deadline Hollywood’s TCA coverage:
In the final executive session of the TCA confab in Pasadena on Saturday morning, FX president and GM John Landgraf acknowledged that he’s disappointed in the ratings for the premiere last week of the network’s latest drama series — the boxing-themed Lights Out — and continued to do post-mortems on the demise of Terriers but he remains undaunted going forward, stressing, “We’ve had six critically acclaimed shows and four ratings successes, one failure and one unknown. You can’t bat .1000 in this business. That’s just the way it is.”
Landgraf cautioned that it’s far too early to dismiss Lights Out as a failure after just a single airing. “It was tremendously acclaimed. We’re disappointed by the premiere ratings, but we’ll be running it as planned. There’s (rarely) been a scripted series on television about boxing, and this is a very good one…(But) no matter how good the show is, the question is, ‘Are they somebody’s first choice? Are they good enough to overcome massive competition in the marketplace?’ I can’t tell you what will happen over he next 12 weeks. Premieres are very important, but shows also find audiences over time. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
“Maybe we should have made a show about a zombie or a sexy vampire trying to regain the heavyweight title of the world,” he quipped, referring to the runaway ratings success of two other cable series, AMC’s Walking Dead and HBO’s True Blood.
What went wrong? Landgraf pointed to the ever-increasing competition that makes it tougher and tougher for a new series to get sampled, much less bust out from the pack. “I looked at the tracking data. In January and February, there are 18 new original series premiering on cable. There are another 18 returning series launching on cable, and 16 new and returning series launching on broadcast networks. That’s 52 original series premiering in January and February in all. It’s an intensely crowded field. You have to think about that competitive environment…On the night Lights Out premiered, The Game on BET did an absolutely historic number…Getting traction with something new and something different has gotten devilishly hard.”
In the case of Terriers, Landgraf said he’s spent a lot of money doing elaborate studies of why the show didn’t catch on. Some suspected it had something to do with a marketing and promo campaign that misidentified the show’s tone, featuring a snarling dog. “Did we fail from a marketing standpoint? We just don’t know. But it’s become tougher and tougher to find a slot to wiggle through if you’re trying to make something competitively excellent, and different, that isn’t just designed to be noisy and shocking.”
In other news, Landgraf noted that the new comedy Wilfred starring Elijah Wood will launch Thursdays this summer in the slot following the second season of the Louis C.K. comedy Louie, and that a drama based on the indie superhero comic Powers is still alive, with a third writer having been brought in to take a crack at the script. He also pointed out in his opening remarks that the sports comedy The League had shown “improved and excellent ratings” in its second season and that a third season will get picked up “if negotiations prove successful. And I’m confident they will.”
Despite the ratings challenges for FX’s last pair of original series, Landgraf isn’t discouraged. “I’m actually excited,” he said. “It’s like, OK, it’s a tougher environment, we’ve got to jump higher, jump farther, have more commercial noisy-ness. Let’s go to it. I think with our next batch of projects we put on, we’ll have some big successes. We’re coming up now on 10 years (since FX premiered its first original drama The Shield). We can’t win ’em all but we’ve got a pretty good batting average. We’ve learned to absorb the lessons of failure and continue to drive forward and grow…We have to try to continue to take big creative risks.”