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‘American Horror Story’ and other FX shows will sharpen the edge for Hulu

John Landgraf at the 2020 Winter TCA Tour
Chairman of FX Networks and FX Productions John Landgraf speaks during the FX segment of the 2020 Winter Television Critics Assn. Tour in Pasadena.
(Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Streaming service Hulu adopts a new personality in March with the launch of a dedicated section for FX original programming.

Showcasing original shows curated by FX Networks Chairman John Landgraf and his team has been an understated yet key part of the Walt Disney Co.'s strategy for acquiring much of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox entertainment empire.

With the $71.3 billion acquisition of the Fox TV and movie production studios last year came the FX channels — known for their shows with razor-sharp points of view — as well as majority control of the Santa Monica-based Hulu. The 13-year-old streaming service has nearly 30 million subscribers.

Early on, Disney Chairman Bob Iger saw the promise of marrying those two brands — FX and Hulu — to enhance the programming arsenal as the streaming wars heat up. For FX, branching out to Hulu will allow the close-knit group of executives an opportunity to better engage younger viewers who gravitate to streaming services rather than old-school linear channels.

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“We see this as a transformative opportunity for the FX brand, our shows and our talent,” Landgraf told about 150 television writers Thursday as he kicked off FX’s presentations for the Television Critics Assn. Winter Press Tour in Pasadena. “I believe FX can be even stronger.”

The analytical Landgraf, who is one of the industry’s deepest thinkers, has long been an unabashed booster of Disney’s takeover of the Fox properties.

Initially, some observers squawked that FX’s daring shows — think “American Horror Story,” “Baskets” and “Sons of Anarchy” — would be a poor fit with Disney’s squeaky clean image. But uniting FX and Hulu will give FX the freedom to create provocative shows without being handcuffed. And it gives Hulu a deeper well of HBO-level programming.

“We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been acquired by the Walt Disney Co. as it is the best possible home for FX,” Landgraf said.

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The storefront FX on Hulu will launch March 2. The plan is for Hulu to house FX’s library of about 40 productions, including “The Shield,” “Atlanta” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadephia,” and such limited series as “Fosse/Verdon” and “Feud.”

FX now has a two-pronged mission: to create shows, such as “Fargo” and “Dave,” that will work on the linear cable channels and have a second act on Hulu.

But FX is also creating FX exclusives for Hulu, including the highly anticipated thriller “Devs,” an eight-episode limited series from producer Alex Garland about a young computer programmer who investigates the murder of her boyfriend, which she begins to believe may be tied to a larger tech company.

Landgraf, who coined the term “peak TV,” also provided his annual count of scripted television shows on Thursday.

Labeling the TV production boom a “mad race to keep the massive conveyor belt of content going,” Landgraf said the industry’s networks and streaming services together produced 532 scripted drama, comedies and limited series in 2019.

That represents a 7% increase over 2018 production levels. It also marked the first time the total topped 500, and a doubling of the number of scripted shows produced a decade ago.

“Given the fact that the streaming wars are now at hand, we expect the total to likely increase substantially this year, which to me is just bananas,” Landgraf said.

But Landgraf said the network would take “the opposite approach,” spending time and energy to nurture shows and producers that would stand out amid a sea of choices.

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FX also announced three more seasons of Ryan Murphy’s “American Horror Story,” which means the anthology will end with 13 stories, which Landgraf said was fitting.

He noted that in many cases the median age of the audience for shows that run on streaming can be 20 years younger than viewers who watch traditional television.

In addition, the audience for cable channels has been steadily shrinking. FX is currently received in about 85 million pay-TV homes, but that number is not growing.

“The brand hit a ceiling,” Landgraf said. “What the FX on Hulu thing does is it allows us to aggregate all of the strength we have on the linear channels ... and move into another almost 30 million homes. I think it will make the FX brand even more valuable because it can penetrate deeper into American culture.”


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