If there’s one constant of Television Critics Association press tours, it’s this: TV critics and reporters love FX president John Landgraf. A common refrain during his executive sessions is that most of us would gladly watch a weekly show on FX just about the man answering questions about the television industry. He’s honest and smart, and he expresses himself well. Even when he makes a decision some of us don’t agree with—like canceling Terriers or picking up a Charlie Sheen sitcom—he can talk about it in such a way that we can understand his point-of-view, even if we end up unable to agree with him. There’s no real reason for FX to do an executive session at its winter tour, particularly when it’s not yet in a place to announce much in the way of new news, but FX knows we like picking Landgraf’s brain, and he’s only too happy to have his brain picked.
If there was “news” out of the session, it was that Anger Management’s “back 90” will air one episode per week for, essentially, two straight years. Landgraf said the show will break for major holidays, but it will air 45 episodes per year, for the most part, and the show will become more of a “multi-generational” show, with Martin Sheen, now fully on board as the fictional father of his real-life son, bringing a new element to the show’s attempts to deal with masculine rage or… something. Anger Management isn’t a good show, and Landgraf knows that critics are unlikely to ever like it, but he’s still trying to think about ways to improve it, even if it’s mostly just there to subsidize much of the other great comedy that hangs out on his network. It’s a necessary evil, in other words, but he wants it to be the best necessary evil it can possibly be (and that you will see every week for the next two years—and possibly beyond).
The most interesting thing about Landgraf’s session was the way that he was unafraid to attempt to assign blame for the number of shooting massacres in the past few years. At first, it seemed like he was trying to deflect blame from television—and the level of violence on television has been a hot topic at this press tour—and toss it onto video games, but after a bit, he brought everything back to all media violence, saying that movie studios, TV networks, and video game companies should commission studies and make big changes if those studies suggested any correlation between their product and gun violence. (Let’s just say having skepticism this will ever happen is a healthy attitude to hold.)
But then, he gladly launched into an excoriation of the easy availability of assault rifles, adding that a shotgun or handgun that only holds six rounds should be more than enough for home defense. He labeled himself as a firm supporter of the first and second amendments, but he was the first network head this week not to equivocate when it came to possible solutions to the violence problem, even going so far as to rattle off statistics about the level of gun violence in the United Kingdom compared to the United States. (The topic of gun violence came up again in the session for Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell, when a journalist asked producer Chris Rock about his famous routine about levying taxes on bullets, rather than guns. Rock suggested his solution—and he seemed sincere—would be to make it possible for only those with a mortgage to get a gun, pointing out how many of those behind these mass shootings live alone with their mothers.)
Landgraf also talked about how he’s getting bored with male anti-heroes, despite his love for Breaking Bad, which is rapidly turning into the show the most network executives (and talent from other shows) mention to prove they watch good TV. His new series, The Americans, which debuts Jan. 30 and is about a married couple who are also Soviet spies in the early ‘80s, technically has male and female antiheroes, in that both husband and wife are attempting to undermine the United States, but its female character—played by Keri Russell—is decidedly harder-edged than its male character, and that gives the first two episodes, even though they’re flawed, a nice rhythm that feels just different enough from everything else on the air to keep viewers watching. (Russell’s dead eyes when she goes on a spy mission in episode two are something to behold.)
More women than men watch most dramatic programming, Landgraf said, but FX, in general, has more male viewers, and that’s been true of its dramas as well. (The only current drama that has more female viewers than male, he said, is American Horror Story. Historically, more women than men watched Nip/Tuck and Damages as well.) But Landgraf seems at least interested in the question of how to diversify that audience, and he’s not interested in condescending to either audience, as plenty of cable executives for networks targeting specific demographics often will. What both male and female viewers will respond to, Landgraf said, are well-developed, intelligently drawn characters with rich emotional lives, be those characters male or female.
What’s weird about all of the above is that Landgraf says stuff that should be common sense but tends to get lost in the midst of marketing speak. FX is nominally a network aimed at male viewers, largely because it tends to attract more of them than most other networks, and since men are an audience advertisers tend to like pitching to (in the fact that they’re hard to reach outside of sports broadcasts), FX could have very easily just chased itself even more into being just a channel for dudes. And, sure, there are elements of that present, particularly when it comes to the channel’s movie selections, but Landgraf seems dedicated to making a network that’s at once quality-driven and hopefully somewhat responsible to its viewers. Maybe that’s impossible when you’re broadcasting two straight years of Anger Management, but if anybody’s going to make it work, it’s him.