FX Is the Edgiest and Most Prolific Drama Producer on Ad-Supported TV

Network has 13 pilots in various stages of development

Rounding Out the Slate
The thing of it is, if you’re going to pantomime tossing atrophied vampire genitalia over your shoulder in the upstairs bar at New York’s Four Seasons, the waiter with the indeterminate European accent is likely to misinterpret the gesture. In this particular case, he confuses the sudden upward motion of the arm as a summons for more olives. 

Photo: Kevin Scanlon

Given the context, the guy should be offering to bring out some garlic.

It’s a little after 4 on a mild February afternoon, and from his perch at the corner banquette, FX Networks CEO John Landgraf is dealing the dirt on the bloodsuckers who infest Manhattan in FX’s upcoming horror series, The Strain. Stealing back the vampire myth from the sparkly, pouty mopes of the Twilight Saga, the ghouls that haunt Guillermo del Toro’s prime-time nightmare are in no danger of becoming the object of ’tween crushes. (That they shed their reproductive organs is off-putting enough. You really don’t want to hear about their bathroom habits.)

A stygian stew of Old World vampire legends, viral pathogens and the sort of apocalyptic visions Hieronymus Bosch would dream up in the midst of an opium bender, The Strain will bow in July. Lost alum Carlton Cuse is the showrunner on the project, which is currently shooting in Toronto.

If The Strain seems to represent the network’s best shot at emulating a Walking Dead-size audience (del Toro’s participation alone should guarantee a big turnout when the series premieres in July), there is no mistaking it for anything but an FX show. For one thing, it’s probably the most artful vampire-based entertainment in memory; even the bloodiest acts of exsanguination are as carefully composed as a still life. “First and foremost, Guillermo’s a visual artist,” says Landgraf. “He’s particularly obsessive about the color—I mean, he’s literally going to color-time every episode of the show himself. So what you get is this almost painterly aesthetic that’s being used in the context of what is essentially a 13-hour macabre horror film.”

In town to host a screening of the Season 2 premiere of Cold War spy drama The Americans, Landgraf spends the time leading up to the event conducting an impromptu and gently meandering master class in the business of television, touching on everything from the Netflix perception-reality gap to the brave new world of life after Nielsen ratings. Through it all, FX’s development slate provides an audio-visual complement. 

 Photo: Kevin Scanlon

Along with The Strain, FX has prepped a clutch of new original series that includes the aforementioned Fargo and Tyrant, a sweeping family drama set in the Middle East that was developed by Homeland co-creators Howard Gordon and Gideon Raff. There are also a pair of idiosyncratic sitcoms in the hopper, of which the acerbic comedy of sexual manners, You’re the Worst, shares some DNA with Orange Is the New Black. (Creator and executive producer Stephen Falk serves as co-ep on the Netflix prison dramedy.)

Set to premiere this summer, You’re the Worst will be stacked with the Nat Faxon (Ben and Kate) and Judy Greer (Archer) comedy Married. Like its running mate, Married is a single-camera comedy about the war of attrition that is modern love.

All told, FX has 13 pilots in various stages of development, more than double what it ordered a year ago. And while Landgraf says he’ll go to series with two more shows before April rolls in, it’s not exactly a state secret as to which drama pilots will get the green light. “I have one more season of Justified, and I already have the replacement,” he says. Based on the novels of the late crime novelist Charles Willeford, Hoke stars Paul Giamatti as a private dick working the mean streets of a coked-out, kill-crazy Miami circa 1985. Scott Frank, who adapted Justified godfather Elmore Leonard’s Out of Sight and Get Shorty for the big screen, is running herd on Hoke.

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