FX Networks CEO John Landgraf said today that "2016 was the best year in our 22-year history." But two of the biggest reasons for FX's commercial and critical success last year, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story and breakout comedy Atlanta, won't return to the network's schedule until 2018.
Landgraf made the announcement during the Television Critics Association's winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif.
The next installment of Ryan Murphy's American Crime Story anthology series, which will focus on Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, took longer to develop and therefore won't be ready to air until 2018, two years after The People v. O.J. Simpson debuted.
"We just have really high ambitions for this franchise," Landgraf said. "It's just taken time to get material that we're happy with." Also, the production will shoot in New Orleans, and certain times of the year are off-limits for filming because of, yes, hurricane season.
But when American Crime Story does return, it will make up for the long hiatus with two separate installments that will air within "six to seven months" of one another, according to Landgraf. The third season will focus on the 1997 murder of Gianni Versace.
Atlanta fans will also have a year-plus wait for Season 2. FX agreed to delay production so creator-star-everything Donald Glover could play Lando Calrassian in the upcoming Star Wars movie coming out in 2018 and focused on a young Han Solo. At the same time, FX Productions has signed Glover to an overall production deal, under which he'll develop TV series for FX and other networks and continue with Atlanta.
Atlanta was basic cable's most-watched new comedy in three years in the 18-49 demo and FX's highest-rated comedy ever with 4.8 million viewers across all platforms.
"We look at it on a show-by-show basis and try to be as accommodating to the talent as we can," said Eric Schrier, president, original programming, of allowing such long hiatuses. Added Landgraf, "Do you want it now, or do you want it good? … We'll take it later, and we'll take it good."
Nick Grad, who serves with Schrier as president of original programming, noted that because FX isn't beholden to a set schedule like broadcast networks are, it had the flexibility to accommodate Murphy and Glover.
Even without those shows in 2017, FX will have plenty to fill the gap, including two of 2017's most eagerly awaited (and, judging by their initial episodes, best) shows: Feud: Betty and Joan (premiering March 5) and Legion (premiering Feb. 8). There will also be a third season of Fargo, which Landgraf said should be ready by late April. The Americans, Adweek's best show of 2016, returns for Season 5 on March 7.
Feud: Bette and Joan is Murphy's third anthology series for FX and will look at epic battles, starting with the making of the 1962 film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and the legendary behind-the-scenes clashes between Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon). Legion, from Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley, is set in the X-Men Universe and based on the Marvel Comic about David Haller (Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens), who was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a child but realizes he might have special abilities.
Archer is also returning this spring but will move from FX to FXX for Season 8—it debuts on April 5—and helps Landgraf's continued efforts to shore up FXX's identity.
"We're really happy with FXX," he said, admitting that when he was first asked to take over what used to be the Fox Soccer Network, he thought the request was akin to "a suicide mission." But he embraced it as a way to expand the FX brand, and "it has exceeded all expectations." However, he said, "I don't think it's fully-baked yet, … good so far, but we're not done"
Looking ahead, FX picked up American Horror Story for an eighth and ninth season today, going beyond the upcoming seventh season it had previously ordered. The most recent installment, American Horror Story: Roanoke, averaged 10.9 million viewers across all platforms and grew its 18-49 audience by 5 percent (4.4 million, from 4.2 million). It was the No. 3 cable scripted series in 2016.
Much like last season's American Horror Story, the upcoming Season 7 "will be shrouded in super secrecy," because of another "really innovative idea" from Murphy, said Landgraf. The exec doesn't know what Murphy has in store for Seasons 8 and 9 but said Murphy has committed to overseeing those seasons.
In his semiannual meeting with television writers, Landgraf, Adweek's Television Executive of the Year for 2016, tends to talk about the television industry in broad terms. But this time around, he remained more focused on his own networks.
However, he did discuss Peak TV, a term he coined at an earlier press tour, when asked about today's Wall Street Journal report that yet another company, Apple, is planning to create original series and films for Apple Music.
"We welcome them as competitors," Landgraf said, mentioning the influx of Silicon Valley money going into programming.
"When I first labeled Peak TV, I suggested this would be the peak year. I was obviously wrong," said Landgraf, who now feels that the number of scripted series will peak by 2018.
The doubling of scripted series on TV in the past six years isn't all that has changed during Landgraf's tenure at FX. When he joined the company 13 years ago, advertising was responsible for 50 percent of its revenue. That number is down to 35 percent now, he said.