As the David Benioff & D.B. Weiss sweepstakes recently moved into the final stage, attention focused on three blue-chip companies vying to sign the Game of Thrones creators in a mega TV overall deal: Disney, Netflix and Amazon. In an intriguing wrinkle, as we reported, the pact on the table at Disney has a key FX component while giving the duo access to all TV/streaming divisions of entertainment giant.
In an interview with Deadline, FX Networks Chairman John Landgraf laid out the reasons for Benioff and Weiss’ serious conversations with Disney and FX in particular, while also expressing his firm belief that FX would be home of series as big as Game of Thrones under Disney as its new corporate owner.
“First of all, (Benioff and Weiss) have a separate and I think a very productive relationship with the Walt Disney company because they are writing and producing at least one, but conceivable a trilogy, of Star Wars movies.”
Newly promoted FX Original Programming President Gina Balian’s stint as SVP Drama Series at HBO years ago may be a key factor behind Benioff and Weiss’ interest in working at FX.
“Second of all, they have a really, really close relationship with Gina Balian who works with us,” Landgraf said. “She was an executive who worked very intimately with them developing Game of Thrones and with whom they have a lot of history and a lot of trust.”
Landgraf himself is a big fan of Benioff and Weiss.
“I met them and really liked them; I like them personally a lot, and I really admire their work,” Landgraf said. “I’ve been reading one of David Benioff’s novels, City of Thieves recently, and it’s excellent; they are really terrific writers.”
Landgraf is not sure whether the arguments he listed would be strong enough to tip the scales in Disney/FX’s favor but acknowledges that the duo has perfect timing in pursuing a deal in a white-hot marketplace that puts a premium to top creators.
“It’s really their decision where to go; they have plenty of options, and I don’t think I know with any certainty at the moment what decision they are going to make,” Landgraf said. “It’s a sellers markets for talent, and they will sell their services where they choose.”
While Benioff and Weiss have not decided yet where to close an overall deal, when they do, it is expected to be another massive pact in a strong of eight- and nine-figure mega overall deals over the past few months, including the one Daredevil and The Defenders executive producer Drew Goddard closed at 20th Century Fox TV.
Would FX Prods., known mostly for signing up-and-coming talent and some of the key auspices behind its top series, jump into the fray and start pursuing such giant deals?
“I don’t think that we would be the primary place to pursue those deals to be honest with you,” Landgraf said. “One of the things I am really excited about is, we are breaking down the barriers that have existed; essentially every bit of wall and every bit of friction that has existed we are reimagining and breaking down at Disney. Where the bulk of the big overall deals are going to sit would be inside the studios Craig Hunegs oversees for Dana Walden, most likely at ABC Studios or 20th Century Fox TV or Fox 21.”
Landgraf gave Drew Goddard as a recent example of how FX helps drawing big-name TV talent to Disney with the prospect of creative collaborations even if FX is not their formal studio home.
“Drew Goddard is someone who we love, who really wants and intends to work at FX, he will work at FX. He ended up making a deal at 20th . We will be driving overall deals like that but typically they will be made by one of Dana’s studios which is great, it’s fine by us.”
During the FX executive presentation at TCA, Landgraf talked about the network’s plans of “scaling up” the volume of its original programming. With auspices like Goddard and potentially Benioff and Weiss, is FX also ready to scale up the scope of its shows to Game Of Thrones proportions?
“Absolutely,” Landgraf said. “First of all, we are now making some shows that are really, really giant in terms of their scope; you will see it when you see Y, Devs, Mrs America. You can already see in some of Ryan Murphy’s work that he’s done.”
“But second of all, if you look at the kind of investment Disney has put in The Mandalorian, or it is going to be putting g in the shows that (Marvel boss) Kevin Feige is making in the Marvel cinematic universe, you can see every show doesn’t benefit from a huge investment, but it’s extraordinary what kind of scope you can put on television now.”
The Star Wars and Marvel series Landgraf mentioned are all for the Disney+ streaming service. FX, a linear, ad-supported cable network, which is expected to have a strong presence on fellow Disney streamer Hulu, including with first-run programming, is gunning to go toe-to-toe with the biggest SVOD shows.
“FX is an adult premium brand that will make stuff every bit as ambitious as HBO or Netflix or Amazon,” he said. “You are going to expect to see shows of big scope coming our brand.”