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TCA: Landgraf Defends Comedy in Age of Drama

Beverly Hills, Calif.--“There are two grand traditions of looking at the world,” FX Networks and FX Productions CEO John Landgraf said Monday in his TCA summer press tour executive session. “One is through a tragic lens, one is through a comedic lens.”

Landgraf made the case Monday that both points of view are critical to FX, as well as to FXX, the sister network launched last year. He discussed the network’s overarching content strategy and the explosion in recent years of original scripted programming.

“There’s been more than a thousandfold increase in scripted original series on basic cable in the last decade,” Landgraf said. “More than 10 times. It sort of used to be that the broadcast networks had this very fruitful area where they were pumping oil. Then all of a sudden, we and a bunch of new cable networks went out and prospected into this wonderful new territory, and you just couldn’t drill a hole without striking oil. It was just this vast, open plane of places that storytellers hadn’t gone. Now it feels to me like you can’t walk 10 feet without running into someone else’s oil derrick.”

Landgraf defended the comedy genre, where broadcast networks especially have struggled in recent years to establish major hits. He pointed to FX series such as Louie—renewed Monday for a shortened fifth season as having pushed new boundaries in the form while other networks were focused on drama, and defended FX’s recent slate of comedy pickups.

“We’ve always wanted to jog left when everyone else was jogging right,” Landgraf said. “We saw this massive tsunami of dramas coming, and we said, ‘Well, you know what, we have to continue to work in that genre.’ We obviously developed and launched a lot of new dramas this year. Meanwhile, we were hearing all these incredible pitches for comedy. Show like Louie, in a way that shows like The Sopranos, really blew people’s minds. It really opened up the creative thinking of a whole generation of writers.”

He added, “We just decided, ‘You know what, we’re going to go where the talent is.’ And we had a period of time where as good as the dramas were that came through our door, the comedies were better, in our view. So we made more comedies than dramas.”

Other highlights from the panel included:

--Landgraf said he anticipates that FXX, which thus far has focused on half-hour long original comedies, to feature original hour-long dramas in the near future. “It’s going to take a while for the two brands to shake out shake out for every show, where it ought to be from a brand standpoint,” he said of FX and FXX.

--Writers and creators Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton are currently re-writing the pilot for their untitled project set to star comedian Tracy Morgan and working on additional episodes, according Landgraf. Morgan is currently recovering from serious injuries sustained in a six-car crash June 7 on the New Jersey Turnpike. “We’re extremely encouraged by his progress and remain excited about his new show,” reiterating his past statements that the project will proceed whenever Morgan is ready to move forward.

--Landgraf also discussed the creative leeway he allows his series creators. Arguing that they’re motivated to create work that draws viewers, Landgraf said of his creators, “They want to be successful, they want to have nice homes, they want to be liked.”