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TCA Winter Press Tour 2019 – It's FX's Turn
February 8, 2019  | By Roger Catlin
 

PASADENA, CA – Peak TV took a pause last year. Instead of steady, explosive growth of the number of scripted TV series with original episodes, there was just a 2 percent increase from 2017. It’s still an inhuman number of shows — 496 compared to last year’s 487.

In a session at the Television Critics Association (TCA) Winter Press Tour, John Landgraf (top), the CEO of FX Network, said, “Overall, this was a very slow growth year, but bucked the trend of 7 percent or more growth in each of the past ten years.” It's believed that it's Landgraf alone who keeps such reliable and detailed tabs on such information (or at least is alone in regularly sharing them with the press).

“I was wrong in my initial prediction several years ago when I guessed that the peak of scripted TV would happen in 2017 or ’18,” he said. But, he added, “I’m betting we’ll see a more robust growth again this year and maybe next year because Netflix is spending more and more money, still adding to their already insane volume of output.”

Also, he noted HBO plans more original programming this year; Apple will start making shows, Amazon will continue to grow, as will other streaming services existing or soon to start.

Landgraf saved particular scorn for Netflix’ selective reporting of viewer numbers, saying that it boasts of 40 million viewers for You or Sex Education. His concerns revolve around their methodology that is based on an individual Netflix account watching at least 70 percent of one episode and differs wildly with accepted audience measurement at Nielsen — adding up every minute viewed and dividing it by total duration of the program. Hence, you could be one-fifth less that number or 8 million.

Sticking to baseball metaphors, Landgraf said, “by reporting their singles as if they were home runs and failing to ever report a single strikeout, they undercut an accurate perception of their batting average and misrepresent the number and scale of their hits.”

With Neilsen set to begin measuring streaming services, though, “one way or the other, the truth will ultimately come out, as it always does.”

His strong words on Netflix were also universal enough to apply to other fields. “It’s just not a good thing for society when one entity or one person gets to unilaterally make the rules or pronounce the truth,” he says.

In answer to questions, he said there are three or four ideas in active development for American Crime Story but currently, a season about the Katrina hurricane in New Orleans “is not still in the mix.” There is more coming from American Horror Story as well.

The fourth season of Fargo is going into production “this coming winter.” Landgraf said as long as Hawley “can come up with ideas that are fantastic ideas for subsequent cycles of Fargo, we’ll keep making them.”

Landgraf says he’s astonished by the longevity of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, scheduled for its 14th season. “I could have never predicted that it would be the longest running live-action sitcom in television history,” he said. “And I’d say there is a good chance it might go past Season 14, which is the last one we’ve currently ordered.”

Because of delays, a new season of Atlanta won’t be out in time for the Emmy cycle (which ends May 31, 2019). “You just have to make a decision about quantity over quality at a certain point,” Landgraf says, “and we’re just erring on the side of quality.”

Among the announcements from the session was the series order of the adaptation of the DC sci-fi comic Y: The Last Man with Diane Lane, Barry Keoghan, Imogen Poots, and Amber Tamblyn, premiering next year.

In addition, it was announced that the premiere of the 10th season of Archer would be in April.

A documentary series from The New York Times called The Weekly will highlight investigative pieces with cinematography that takes its cues from the Times’ award-winning photography department.

There were no advance episodes made available of the show, so it’s somewhat of a guessing game what it will be. It doesn’t seem like it will have much to do with the Times' podcast, The Daily: it won’t have a host, and it will sometimes be accompanied by stories in the paper or the website, but sometimes not.

Actually, it sounds a lot like the previous nightly dispatches from Vice. The Weekly will debut in June.

Also starting in June is the third and final season of the eye-popping Legion, the Marvel TV adaptation least like a superhero story. Creator Noah Hawley “had always considered Legion — and conceived Legion —  as a three-season show, and he has confirmed that he’s going to stick to his plans,” Landgraf said.

Landgraf didn’t provide much on the impending merger of Fox with Disney except to say it’s not expected to change FX, which marks its 25th anniversary in June.

The FX shows continue to lead in quality with 13 of its 14 shows making year-end critics’ best lists — a much better batting average than nearest competitors HBO (20 of its 70 shows on critics’ lists) or the outsized output of Netflix (62 of 520 different shows last year).

Landgraf has a close relationship with critics because he is perhaps alone among network executives in respecting their work.

“I think you guys know what’s good. I think you guys know what is advancing the medium in television, what is on the cutting edge because you’re the ones that watch it all.”

**********

The classiest thing presented so far at the TV Critics Association Winter Press Tour is an eight-episode limited series on the relationship of choreographer and director Bob Fosse and his wife, Gwen Verdon. Fosse / Verdon, which starts April 9 on FX, is not only about powerhouse figures from stage and screen of the 1960s, but it’s created by some contemporary theatrical powerhouses: The screenplay is by Steven Levenson, who wrote Dear Evan Hansen and it’s directed by Tommy Kail, the Tony-winning director of Hamilton, whose Lin-Manuel Miranda is also an executive producer.

If Sam Rockwell doesn’t win an Emmy for his role, Michelle Williams, who bears an uncanny likeness to Verdon, certainly will.

But the two also had to learn some convincing and signature moves of the couple.

“I think we are pretty good movers,” Rockwell said, “but this is a whole other realm. As Michelle said one day, ‘You know, they look like normal people … but they get up and dance, and they are superheroes.'"

“I danced a little bit as a kid but not, like, really anything to write home about,” Williams says. “This is just, like the next level of degree of difficulty.”

One key part of the creative team was Nicole Fosse, the only daughter of the two, who is seen prominently as a character as a grade-schooler in the series.

She sat with critics to watch a preview of the premiere episode this week (sitting next to her friend, a daughter of the late Neil Simon).

“I find it fascinating,” Fosse says, “Watching it now, as an adult, I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s what was going on. Now, I get it.’ So, it’s actually really refreshing and wonderful. Sometimes, a little exhausting, but it’s terrific.”

Fosse / Verdon also features Aya Cash, Nate Corddry, Evan Handler, Paul Reiser, and Margaret Qualley as Ann Reinking.

 
 
 
 
 
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