EXCLUSIVE: FX president explains Terriers cancellation, why calling it Beach Dicks wouldn't have helped
When FX president John Landgraf made the unusual decision to immediately avail himself to reporters to discuss the network’s recent cancellation of Terriers, he addressed two of the most commonly blamed culprits for the show’s failure: its title and early, dog-heavy ad campaign. Not long after I wrote about Landgraf’s market research-backed conclusion that neither had had any bearing, I was contacted by Landgraf himself (an avowed reader of the site, as it turns out), who said he could “detect a note of skepticism that it was an ass-covering statement,” so he wanted to reach out and let me and everyone else know that Monday’s press conference was “not some suit blithely and shallowly trying to defend his people and his own decisions.” Well, we never said it was! Although, yeah, we still think Terriers was sort of a crummy title.
Anyway, Landgraf says when it came time to make the tough decision, “From my point of view, there were two fundamental questions: Is the show anywhere in the realm statistically that you could bear to renew it based on either its ratings or its trajectory of ratings—any objective measure that shows promise for the future? The second question that’s equally important is, did the show fail simply because it wasn’t marketed correctly? And as far I’m concerned—and I recognize other people may disagree with this, and that’s certainly their right—I know that the show did not fail because it was called Terriers, or because there was a dog on the poster.”
For one thing, Landgraf says that, statistically, it just doesn’t add up, saying, “I think one of the reasons that this conventional wisdom has developed so strongly—that the reason Terriers didn’t succeed was because it was called Terriers and there was a marketing campaign that convinced them it was about dog-fighting—is that you can certainly find people anecdotally for whom that’s true. I have no doubt there are people out there who were confused by the title. And there are certainly people out there who were confused by the image of the dog.” Indeed, there have been articles, comments on our boards, even admissions from the show's stars to that effect—something I point out to Landgraf, which he calls “the perilous difference between anecdotal and statistical evidence.”
“I’m not debating you that somebody failed to find Terriers because it was called Terriers, or they saw a teaser campaign, or a billboard, or promo with a dog on it,” Landgraf says. “But when you talk about America as a whole, the marketing campaign for Terriers delivered 1 billion impressions, and none of the campaign I’m talking about was comprised of spots with a dog biting a balloon or any of the other teasers. Over 90 percent of all of the television promotion, including everything off-air, were fairly straightforward spots. They show the two leads, they show that it’s a buddy detective comedy set in Ocean Beach, they convey the tone of the show. Overwhelmingly, that’s what people were exposed to.”
Nevertheless, Landgraf was not immune to the sway of that conventional wisdom, saying, “I was legitimately interested in the answer to the question, did we confuse people? Did we make people think this was a show about dog-fighting and not a show about detectives? Or did the promos just suck relative to the show?”
To find out, as reported previously, Landgraf had the network commission a study of 600 demographically diverse viewers—a group broken down into three segments of “FX-centric viewers” (meaning they’d watched at least two FX series), “traditional competitive procedural viewers” (fans of shows like TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles or NBC’s Law And Order, etc., which Landgraf calls “blue sky procedurals”), and “light traditional drama viewers” not attached to either brand—then showed them the non-teaser, non-canine-centric promos along with the pilot and first episode. According to the “unambiguous, overwhelmingly conclusive” findings, 83 percent of the research subjects said the promos represented the programs well.
Granted, but that study measured the effectiveness of the in-depth, episodic promos—not the ones that just featured Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James playing second fiddle to a bunch of free-roaming mongrels. So what about the influence of those? Well, as to the billboard, print, and Internet campaigns that did make dogs their focus, Landgrad says anyone confused by those would only account for around 6 percent—10 percent if you’re being generous—of overall impressions, and that “when you’re looking at a show that would have had to do three times the ratings to be acceptable, it doesn’t hold water that the small number of people who fall into that category would have made the difference between success and failure for this show.”
In fact, according to Landgraf, that same study revealed that perhaps no marketing campaign in the world could have saved a show that just wasn’t very easily defined, saying, “Based on what these people saw in those two episodes, the FX-centric viewer just rated it lower in areas such as intensity, suspense, sexiness. When you talk to the USA-type viewer, they rate it lower than their favorite shows because it’s not a land in which every babe is hot, and the sky is incredibly blue, and everybody lives in an apartment three times as big as they could legitimately afford, and everything comes out great in the end. What we ended up with—and this is a much more nuanced and complicated answer—was a show that somehow fell between two brands.”
“If I’d really believed that we had just screwed the pooch, to make a pun,” Landgraf continues, “then I would have believed that maybe, if we’d marketed the show that we actually had put on the air for a second season, we could actually find an audience. But I can’t look at this data and come to the conclusion that we didn’t market the show that went on the air. We did. Now, did we market it perfectly? No. You rarely do. And maybe it was highly imperfect. But the reality is that there were hundreds and hundreds of people that saw ads that accurately reflected the show, we got 14 million people to sample it, and for whatever reason, it didn’t resonate.”
“What I come to is a much more subtle and much less satisfying conclusion,” Landgraf says, “which is that sometimes you have crappy shows that work and sometimes you have quality shows that don’t, and for whatever reason, this was not a show that Americans wanted to watch at this moment in time…. And by the way, I think that’s their loss and our loss. There’s nothing I’d like more than for Terriers to have been successful and to have renewed it and kept it on the air for seven seasons.”
Still, given the fact that he had to ask the question of whether the show’s title and ad campaign were holding it back, doesn’t that suggest that, even if they only accounted for a small percentage of impressions, maybe they weren’t exactly ideal choices? Could addressing these concerns much earlier have saved Terriers?
“To the extent that I should have disagreed with the writer and said, ‘No, Terriers is a terrible title for the show, it should be called Beach Dicks,” Landgraf concludes, “the best I can do is the best I can do, which is to take that question seriously, and go out and seek an answer to it. Because if the answer is as simple as change Terriers to Beach Dicks and take the dog off the poster, and it’ll quadruple its audience, then I’m being dumb in not picking it up, especially since it’s such a good show. I did my best to answer that question, and unfortunately the answer was resoundingly no, that’s not likely to create a different outcome. Because for whatever reason—that’s disappointing and not entirely fathomable—people just don’t want to watch this show.”
Fair enough. But you know, we get the feeling a ton of people would have tuned into Beach Dicks.