FX's John Landgraf on AHS: Freak Show, Fargo vs. True Detective, and Why He'd Rather Fail Than Succeed in a "Quiet, Middling Way"

FX CEO John Landgraf took the stage at the Television Critics Association summer press tour on Monday, and he kicked off his executive session by apologizing to the critics assembled before him for "the ramp-up of programming at FX"—after all, it will only add to the increasingly common (first world) complaint that we now live in a era where there's simply too much good TV for any mere mortal to watch. Of course, that didn't stop him from then launching into an overview of what's ahead for the network and confidently fielding questions on its generally acclaimed programming. Here are a few of the highlights:

On FX's general approach to programming, and deciding whether to focus on comedy versus drama at any given time:

In response to a question about the network's recent efforts to increase its comedy slate, Landgraf noted how difficult it is to come up with an original premise for any series, comedy or drama. He said that some years have yielded more good drama pitches while others have 

"We're just gonna go where the talent is," he said, because he's one of the best programmers in the business and seems to really stand behind the (very sensible) belief that "if we make good shows, tend to our knitting, and pick good people," the audience will eventually find them. "Until we fall totally flat on our face, we're going to keep at it."

On giving FX's series creators and showrunners more freedom than they might enjoy at other networks:

"It really makes a difference when people really feel like the organization is behind them—not in front of them, saying 'woah woah woah slow down,'" Landgraf said, explaining that he wants FX to be "the wind in the sail of artists" and that "our contribution [to the television medium] is going to be to be pioneers," even if it means making some viewers uncomfortable: “We’d rather fail spectacularly and nobly than succeed in a quiet middling way.” 

On whether Fargo will face the same challenges as True Detective in casting Season 2:

Following the announcement that Fargo will return for a 10-episode second season, Landgraf was asked whether he expects to face the same casting and storyline scrutiny that HBO's True Detective has been weathering since the end of its first season earlier this year. His response was calm, cool, and collected, with a dash of fightin' words: "I think [True Detective] is going to have to prove that it's more than just a vehicle for movie stars," Landgraf said, adding that [True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto] "is going to have to prove that he can write something great every single year." He went on to praise Fargo writer Noah Hawley's incredible work in Season 1, saying that it'd be "nice to have a movie star in the second cycle of Fargo, but I don’t really think it’s necessary. I think we needed Billy Bob Thornton [in Season 1], but I don’t think we need somebody next year. It will bring more buzz [to have a big name], but frankly, I think we can do it with unknowns. I think Allison Tolman brought as much as to Fargo as Billy Bob Thornton. We could do the whole show with a group of talented young Allison Tolmans."

On why Fargo Season 2 will feature a new cast to go with its new characters and story, instead of casting the same actors in new roles, à la American Horror Story:

“It’s heartbreaking from my standpoint, given how much I love the actors,” Landgraf said. “But Fargo demands a different level of realism, and I don't think we felt we could reintroduce those as actors as new characters."

On what to expect from American Horror Story: Freak Show

The latest incarnation of the Ryan Murphy horror anthology began production last week in New Orleans, and Landgraf said it will have "a different look than any of the previous seasons," landing somewhere in between Asylum and Coven in terms of tone: "It’s not quite as brooding and formal and Hitchcock-ian as Asylum. It's got a little bit more humor, a little bit more camp."

On the cancellation of late-night series Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell:

“What I think is that the show wasn’t good enough yet,” Landgraf said.  “We bet on a really great, really talented guy early in the curve.” He also compared Bell to Jon Stewart, noting that early in his career, "Stewart wasn't the guy we all know today," and expressing confidence that "Kamau will get there."   

On freshman summer dramas Tyrant and The Strain

There's no word yet on whether Tyrant is looking good for a Season 2 renewal, as Landgraf made a point to say that "unlike our competitors," FX prefers to take time to evaluate its shows' performance and avoid premature decision-making. He did say that he was pleased with the series' "amazing ratings consistency," referring specifically to Live+3 ratings in the wake of a recent network-wide decision to no longer release ratings info prior to Live+3 data being available. 

Of The Strain, Landgraf is hopeful that it will set itself apart from other horror and vampire series currently on television. "These are disgusting, parasitic, awful, worm-bearing vampires," he said, explaining that when deciding whether to move forward with the show, "we asked ourselves, 'Is it going to be different enough?' ... I was worried that horror wouldn’t sustain characters over time. But [series creator] Guillermo del Toro is an original voice. … So far, I think we were right, but time will tell.” 

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