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FX’s Cold War Drama Exits Hot

Why This Matters: Saluting the end of a hit show is a reason for a network to celebrate, even as it opens up new holes in the schedule.

The Sixth, and final, season of The Americans premieres on FX March 28, meaning there are just 10 episodes remaining for the Cold War drama that has helped establish the network, as much as any series, as a place for bold original content. Eric Schrier, president of original programming for FX Networks and FX Productions, described the show’s ending as “bittersweet,” but said he’s pleased it will live on in the streaming service FX+ and looks forward to future projects from series masterminds Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields.

“Any discussion you have about the top shows on television, it’s in there,” Schrier said. “In an era of 500 shows, that’s really, really tough.”

Asked about its secret sauce, Schrier noted a prevailing positive attitude at The Americans, which shoots largely in Brooklyn. “I have to say, there’s not a lot of ego in the show at all,” he said. “Everyone is happy to be there. They’re happy with the work.”

Cold War Wrap-Up

FX left it up to creator/executive producer Joe Weisberg and executive producer Joel Fields as to how and when to end The Americans, which resulted in a number of conversations. Weisberg said the “expansive world” of The Americans at times made he and Fields feel like they could keep it going forever; however, an end date seemed more prudent. “Shows aren’t meant to go on for 20 seasons,” Weisberg added. “They’re meant to come to an end.”

Set in the 1980s during the Cold War, The Americans is about KGB officers, played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, posing as an American couple raising a son and daughter in the Washington suburbs. It is produced by Fox 21 Television Studios and FX Productions.

Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette TV critic, noted how The Americans arrived just as the new golden age of television was being forged. “It was on the leading edge of peak TV,” he said of its 2013 start, “before Netflix inundated us with a new series seemingly every week.”

Owen called The Americans “an extremely well-done show” that deftly mixes spy elements with a family drama. “Without that, it would not be the sophisticated show it is,” said Owen.

The show’s lack of ego is largely attributable to the men Schrier calls “the Js.” There’s an easy rapport between Weisberg and Fields, which sets the tone for the series. Weisberg quips that the pair was set up on a “blind date” when The Americans was still in its planning stages. A former CIA officer, Weisberg did not have a ton of TV experience when he pitched the show to FX, said Schrier. As the FX exec had a lunch set up with Fields, whose work included Rizzoli & Isles and Ugly Betty, he asked John Landgraf, FX Networks and FX Productions CEO, about setting the two men up to work together on The Americans.

“I asked John, do you think Joel would be interesting in moving to New York?” Schrier said. “They ended up meeting and the rest is history.”

The pair will continue to make history, or at least new shows, at FX. Schrier, Weisberg and Fields won’t talk about these future projects, but they are in the works. “We’re real excited to be in business with them,” Schrier said. “They have a number of different irons in the fire. They’re going to be real prolific with FX Productions.”

‘Great, Intense Ride’

Before that, the pair is focused on delivering the best season of The Americans they can. Fields called the farewell run “a very emotional season.” Schrier termed it “a great, intense ride.”

Weisberg and Fields said they knew how the ending would play out since the end of season two. Executive producer Graham Yost quoted Landgraf when he summed up the finale’s focus: “John said, ‘We know how the Cold War ends. We don’t know how it ends for the Jenningses.’ ”

Complicating the narrative has been Russia’s real-life incursion in American politics. While many assume Russia’s overseas meddling has made life easier for The Americans brain trust, Weisberg and Fields said the opposite is true.

“When we started the show, the relationship was pretty peaceful,” said Weisberg. “It was a good time to look back at when we were enemies. The idea of the show was constructed around the notion that we were once bitter enemies with Russia. And here we are today.”

Michael Malone
Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.