At last year’s Television Critics’ Association Summer Press Tour, FX President John Landgraf made the biggest executive splash with the idea of “peak TV,” which tapped into the broader cultural anxiety about the sheer volume of television content. Landgraf gave himself a high bar to clear when he took the stage for TCA’s Winter Press Tour, and while his comments are unlikely to resonate as widely, they’ll be particularly interesting to fans of the network’s most acclaimed show, Louie.
Landgraf was asked about the future of Louie, which has been on hold since creator Louis C.K. announced an indefinite hiatus following season five, and he was not completely certain the hiatus would end at all. “He certainly hasn’t promised me any more seasons,” said Landgraf, adding that Louie will only return if and when its star is ready to make more of it. Because the show is autobiographical, Landgraf said, C.K. could theoretically do a new season every other year, every three years, or really at any interval that seems most logistically feasible and creatively fulfilling for him. (For his part, when C.K. took the stage to talk about Baskets, he said he’s theoretically open to making the show when he’s 60, if anyone’s interested in a darkly comic equivalent to the Up series.)
But Landgraf suggested that Louie’s hiatus could be more like that of a long-running band that goes on “indefinite hiatus,” which certainly can be, but isn’t necessarily, a euphemistic way of saying the project is done forever. Put another way, the age of peak TV could lead to the idea of “intermittent TV,” when networks and creatives are finally willing to accept that the sheer volume of competition might mean trusting audiences to watch the million other shows out there until their shows can return in top form. That would explain the relatively positive fan response to news that Fargo won’t be returning for a third installment until sometime in 2017, which creator Noah Hawley has said is the best time frame in order to ensure consistent quality.
“I’m starting to feel like the process of making television can be much more fluid,” Landgraf said, forecasting an evolution toward television scheduling in which networks “follow the voice, the timing, the schedule, and the needs of the creative people rather than mold themselves into a predetermined business structure where they have to be creative on demand. To me that’s a recipe for mediocrity.”
Landgraf’s comments echo those recently made by Michael Lombardo, HBO’s president of programming, who suggested True Detective had a wobbly second season because creator Nic Pizzolatto was pressured to bring the show back before the story was cooked in the middle. “[W]hen we tell somebody to hit an air date as opposed to allowing the writing to find its own natural resting place, when it’s ready, when it’s baked—we’ve failed,” Lombardo said.
All totaled, the comments signal another shift in thinking, as television settles into its auteurish age. Television storytellers are starting to demand the same level of latitude as someone like George R.R. Martin, who said he received an outpouring of fan support when he announced he couldn’t deliver Winds Of Winter prior to the season six premiere of Game Of Thrones. Given the real world realities of television storytelling—contractual wrangling and whatnot—television may never be music or literature, but Louie fans should take comfort in Landgraf’s suggestion that several “not yets” might not equal a “never.”