Consider the 2016 Emmys a coronation of sorts for FX CEO John Landgraf. With 18 wins, the network bested deep-pocketed Netflix for second place, right behind leader HBO and enough to shatter the basic-cable record of eight statuettes. For 12-year FX veteran Landgraf, the haul is vindication of his patient approach to programming and hypercurated development.
"I think back to making Damages instead of Breaking Bad. That was not the right decision from a programming standpoint … but it was the right decision in the sense that we aspired to be more than white-male antiheroes," he says of FX's focus on stories tailored for particular demographics. "We were going to try to be a beacon of quality for everyone. … That turned out to be where television was going, and we made the right sacrifices to be on that right trend."
The "right trend" encompasses little-seen but well-reviewed shows like Zach Galifianakis' Baskets, which scored supporting actor Louie Anderson an Emmy for his role as the mother of the sad clown at the center of the comedy. Other points of pride for Landgraf include Archer, which scooped up its first Emmy for animated series in its seventh season (a rare feat for a veteran show); and Margo Martindale, who won for her guest role on The Americans, which broke through with noms for drama series and for leads Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys in its fourth season. Landgraf's strategy, giving his shows time to find their audience and awards attention, has been rewarded in this viewership-splintered Peak TV era of 400-plus series as network chiefs attempt to build brands as much as ratings. His approach to renewals factors in the creative vision, critical reaction and viewership; two of three scores another season.
Despite the niche plays, perhaps Landgraf's grandest achievement is The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, a risky concept that turned into a Nielsen smash and Emmy magnet (nine wins). O.J. launched a franchise that will continue with 2017's Hurricane Katrina. That will be joined by Donald Glover's Atlanta and Pamela Adlon's Better Things, prestige comedies that have been renewed for second seasons. "It takes time," acknowledges Landgraf. "I would be thrilled and shocked, to be honest, if we could achieve 18 [Emmys] next year."
This story first appeared in the Sept. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.