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FX’s Landgraf Eyes Online Opportunities

FX Networks president and general manager John Landgraf recently signed a multiyear-deal to continue to head Fox’s general-entertainment cable network group. He sat down with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead at The Cable Show in New Orleans last week to discuss his new responsibilities, and some of the challenges cable networks face.

MCN: First, congratulations on your new deal. How does this affect your responsibilities at FX?

John Landgraf: Like everything in our business, it just gets more complicated. Now, in addition to FX and the Fox Movie Channel, we have FX HD and we’re making a major push on our Web site. We’ll be streaming all of our content on that site, as well as producing original programming — both shoulder programming that’s related to our original series, but also new series that will basically premiere on our Web site only. So like everyone else, it’s the same job but just 20% harder.

MCN: FX over the years has been known as the pre-eminent source for new scripted series, even surpassing HBO in some experts’ eyes. How have you been able to keep FX’s scripted success going over the years?

JL: I think a lot of it is good fortune. I think FX found an extraordinarily successful business model by saying there’s pay television scripted programming that’s HBO and Showtime, so we’ll be basic cable’s premium scripted content. … We really defined a niche.

MCN: What are some of the shows that we should keep an eye on from FX?

JL: Coming in September, we have the seventh season of The Shield — one of my personal favorites. We have a new scripted drama called Sons of Anarchy, which is about a motorcycle club — think Easy Rider meets The Sopranos — it’s a family crime drama set in Northern California. I think it’s a show that will really appeal to The Shield fans.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia will return in September, and we’re looking at four or five comedies right now to pick a companion comedy to put on after Sunny this fall. Then we’ll come right back with Nip/Tuck and season two of Damages in January, and we’re making a 22-episode season of Rescue Me which will start in the spring. So it’s a 52-week, year-round process now, and we’re fortunate to have such great programming.

MCN: Are you focusing strictly on original content?

JL: While we’re known for our original programming, we’ve focused very heavily on our acquisition strategy of late as well. We recently bought Two and a Half Men, which we’ll be airing in late 2009. It’s the number one show in broadcast syndication today.

MCN: What are some of the issues facing programmers coming into the show?

JL: We come here because we can get a lot of work done with regards to our relationships with cable operators. They’re expanding their services — VOD and broadband are becoming more important to them, so for us as a full-service provider it gets more complicated because of rights. Part of what we’re trying to do is acquire the rights not only for our linear channel but to service the ambitions of our cable partners and give them everything they need.

R. Thomas Umstead
R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.