FX’s CEO explains the philosophical divide pitting smaller TV networks against Silicon Valley

The “smartest man in TV” lays it all out.
The “smartest man in TV” lays it all out.
Image: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
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The most enlightening hour of each biannual Television Critics Association press tour is the talk by FX CEO John Landgraf, sometimes called the “smartest man in television.” Landgraf offers TV critics and reporters a bird’s eye view of the industry, usually with bar charts to highlight the ever-growing slate of scripted series across cable, broadcast, and streaming television.

This time, Landgraf devoted much of his talk to explain the stark philosophical difference between smaller, curated networks like FX, HBO, and AMC and the titans of Silicon Valley (Netflix, Amazon, and, increasingly, Apple) contributing to what he called the “glut of oversupply” plaguing American TV. ”I want the humans to hold their own against the emerging strength of the machines,” he said.

The FX chief criticized Silicon Valley’s business model for television, which forces companies into a “winner take all” environment where they create endless amounts of TV at incredible costs, often operating at significant losses and valuing algorithms, platforms, and scale over a more human element. Meanwhile, networks like FX, Landgraf said, are much more committed to curation, quality control, and exercising an “editorial voice.”

“We can’t do what they do,” Landgraf said. “[But] I’m not interested in making the world’s largest all-you-can-eat buffet, with something for everyone.”

Landgraf said that the number of scripted TV series has quickly gone from “optimal” to “unmanageable,” the result of more and more companies investing in original content. This “titanic struggle,” Landgraf said, is over who can monetize people’s attention—a finite resource.

Perhaps subtly underscoring his point, in the middle of his talk, Netflix announced that it is making a new anthology TV series from the Coen Brothers—the film directors’ first-ever gig in television.