Just under a year ago, FX boss John Landgraf set industry tongues wagging with his declaration that “there is simply too much television” and predictions of declining “quality control.” While saying that he saw a 500-show TV universe coming soon and that it will be increasingly harder to “break through,” today the cable exec took a different tone – as well as hinted on how long Noah Hawley’s X-Men spinoff Legion could run.
“Ultimately, we think that the world in general and the business of storytelling is infused with timidity and fearfulness,” said Landgraf on Saturday in conversation with Fargo EP Hawley at the annual Produced By Conference. “At the root of art is courage,” he added, noting FX’s self-described tone of “fearless.”
“When I look to Silicon Valley’s business model it’s a monopoly,” the exec lamented, hailing the competitive model of the TV and film industry where talent can move to different studios. “I think it’s a terrible model for creativity and terrible for our society…if writers become serfs,” he added about a tech sector entity like Google having overwhelming market control and the algorithms approach favored by Netflix and the like.
“There are a hundred million variables in deciding to make TV – it cannot be done by a computer,” he said as Hawley looked on. “So how do you do it? You are a human being…and you pick the best stories and the best people.”
“I think since TV and film are a business, it is very tempting for executives to try to back- solve through other people’s success,” said Landgraf, noting how Hawley came out with a very different notion for the Fargo series based on the Coen Brothers’ 1996 Oscar winning film.“You make a hit show by telling a great story,” he added.
“We have to make something of classic and enduring value, and that’s a radical pivot,” the exec noted about fostering a long-term thriving business model in today’s crowded and global marketplace. “I think there is going to be an underlying change in content sales in the next few years,” Landgraf added, pointing out that FX’s revenues are 30% content sales compared to 40% advertising and 30% affiliate income.
With his 26 Keys Productions, the busy Hawley, who recently published his fifth novel Before The Fall, inked an overall deal at 20th Century Fox this spring. As well as a third season of Fargo, with Ewan McGregor on board, Hawley also has the Dan Stevens starring Legion – which FX picked up for an 8-episode first run earlier this week.
“It is an artist’s market because there are only so many buyers so you make something different and better,” Hawley added. “We have the ability to continue to tell the stories, even if it is at a different home,” he said, citing The Mindy Project‘s move last summer from Fox to Hulu as an example.
“Even in success, Legion might end after three seasons because that might be all the story there is to tell,” Landgraf told the Producers Guild of America crowd, revealing that the cabler decided to go with an eight-episode run over the more usual 10-episodes to let Hawley pace the series out and not pad it. “We are going to make Legion as much as Noah has a story, so that can be three seasons, five seasons or seven.”
“What we try to do at FX,” Landgraf asserted, “is get to the end point of a great piece of film that I think would stand up against great filmmaking of any era.” The man who last August worried that a glut of programming across broadcast, cable, streaming and other platforms is creating “too much competition,” today offered a partial solution to keep standards high in a dense environment – ”We should plug the business model into creativity.”
“It’s just TV guys,” Hawley threw in, to a big laugh from the audience.