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FX chief John Landgraf says 'peak TV' is still ascending

FX chief John Landgraf says 'peak TV' is still ascending
John Landgraf, CEO of FX Network and FX Productions, onstage at the TCA press tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Friday. (Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images)

FX Networks Chief Executive John Landgraf sees no end in sight to the growth of scripted TV production.

During his Friday appearance at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Beverly Hills, Landgraf gave a midseason update to his company’s annual tally of dramas, comedies and limited series in productions, and the arrow is still pointing up, as it has been since 2010.

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Through the first six months of 2018, 319 scripted series have been produced, up 5% from the same period a year ago. Much of the growth is propelled by the robust output of Netflix and other streaming services.

Streaming sites have accounted for 76 scripted series this year, up from 52 from the first six months of 2017. Premium cable channels such as HBO and Showtime had 27 scripted programs, up from 19 last year.

The number of scripted series produced for the broadcast networks is down, dropping from 120 to 114. Scripted series on ad-supported networks such as FX declined from 114 to 102.

Landgraf expects the overall total of scripted series to grow as all companies, not just Netflix, are creating more original programming for streaming services.

FX is owned by 21st Century Fox, which will be absorbed into Walt Disney Co. once that company’s $71-billion acquisition of Fox’s entertainment assets is completed.

One of the Disney goals with the deal is to grow the company’s programming offerings to feed a streaming service that competes with Netflix.

But Landgraf said FX will not step up production simply for the sake of matching the volume of Netflix. He said he wants FX programs to remain at the caliber of what viewers and critics expect. FX depends heavily on critical accolades and awards for such shows as “American Horror Story,” “Atlanta” and “The Americans.”

“I don’t want more to be everything,” Landgraf said in a shot at the voluminous offerings from Netflix. “I don’t want to take over the world. I just want to make good television shows.”

Landgraf noted that FX will increase its program offerings with nonscripted fare, which is less expensive to produce than dramas or comedies. But such programs will be more like the documentary series shown on HBO.

“You’re not going to see a competition reality series on FX,” Landgraf said.

The network will be offering a news series, “The Weekly,” which will be produced by the New York Times.

Other programming announcements included a 10-part limited series based on the James Clavell novel “Shogun.” A version starring Richard Chamberlain on NBC was one of the biggest mini-series hits of the 1980s. FX also announced it has signed Chris Rock to star in the next season of “Fargo,” scheduled for 2019.

Landgraf said he has not received any “marching orders” from Disney. He is reportedly heading to the merged company to oversee his channels, which have some of the edgiest content on ad-supported television. How FX will fit into image-conscious Disney will be closely watched.

Landgraf said FX is “just a passenger, but a happy one” as the Disney-Fox deal moves along.

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Fox Television Group Chairwoman and Chief Executive Dana Walden told reporters Thursday at the TCA that the network, referred to as “New Fox,” will be helped by making programming decisions that are not dictated by whether a series is owned by its studio.

“It will be the only network to operate with complete independence,” Walden said.

Once Disney completes its acquisition of the 21st Century Fox assets, Fox will be the only major broadcast network not part of a conglomerate that owns a production studio.

Walden said that will free the network from favoring programs created by a studio owned by its corporate parent over projects from outside production entities such as Lionsgate, MGM, Warner Bros. and Sony, none of which are aligned with a major network.

“We want to be their first choice at the big four networks,” she said.

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