FX’s Upfront Lacked an Ad Sales Chief, but It Did Have the Season 3 Premiere of Fargo

CEO emphasizes to advertisers it's the best TV has to offer

Fargo's third season focuses on two feuding brothers, with Ewan McGregor playing both roles. Matthias Clamer/FX
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Fox Networks Group still hasn’t selected a new ad sales chief after searching for almost seven months, so it’s a good thing that FX Networks didn’t need to rely on a hard sell to buyers at its annual upfront event and bowling party on Thursday night. Instead, FX showcased the Season 3 premiere of Fargo, which drove home most of this year’s upfront messaging all on its own.

In recent years, FX has begun pairing its annual star-studded bowling party at New York’s Lucky Strike Manhattan with a high-profile premiere of one of its critically-acclaimed shows. FX held this year’s screening of Fargo, which debuts April 19, at New York’s SVA Theater. (Due to a scheduling snafu, FX’s upfront was held at the exact same time as AMC Networks’ upfront event.)

Fargo “is a show that typifies the power of ad-supported cable television to compete [with], and often surpass, our ad-free competitors,” FX Network CEO John Landgraf told buyers prior to the screening. “Advertising is fundamental to our business and to our suite of channels.”

During his speech, Landgraf touched on FX Networks’ successes last year, when hits like The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story and Atlanta led Adweek to name him the Television Executive of the Year. The company’s streak has continued into 2017, as FX has already renewed new hits Feud, Taboo and Legion for second seasons.

"[Fargo] typifies the power of ad-supported cable television to compete [with], and often surpass, our ad-free competitors."
FX Networks CEO John Landgraf

Thursday’s Fargo premiere, which was a hit with buyers, showcased FX’s brand better than any number of sizzle reels or exec spin ever could at an upfront event, Landgraf told Adweek. “The product speaks for itself,” he said. “Our point of view is, look, we’re not going to force you to buy this, to be a part of this, but if you want as an advertiser to be a part of the best work in television, you can’t buy Netflix, you can’t buy Showtime, you can’t buy HBO. There’s other good work being done across the dial, but if you want to be a part of the brand that is synonymous with the best work on television, you’ve got one choice.”

Landgraf’s upfront message runs counter to premium cable and streaming, which claim their outlets produce the best that television has to offer. “Not so fast! I’m a really proud booster of commercial television because we’re going to be in a situation where excellence only exists for people who can pay a pretty penny for it,” said Landgraf. “I love Broadway, but we’re at the point where if you can’t afford to pay $100 for a ticket, Broadway is not for you, and so ultimately it’s only for the rich. And my point is, wait a minute, we’ve got a mass medium here. … I want excellence to be for everybody, not just the few.”

That’s one reason why FX has held its casual upfront bowling party for seven years in a row. “It is consistent with FX’s ‘fearless’ stature in the marketplace, in that we do things differently. We’re not afraid to not have that big ballroom presentation, and this gives an opportunity for our customers and our talent to interact in a way that doesn’t happen anywhere else in television,” Bruce Lefkowitz, evp of ad sales for Fox Networks Group, told Adweek.

While Lefkowitz briefly addressed buyers at the start of the bowling party, FX’s event was notably missing the presence of Fox Networks Group’s ad sales chief, a position that has been vacant since Toby Byrne abruptly stepped down last September, just a week before the 2016-17 season began. Lefkowitz, evp of global partnerships Danielle Maged and president of advanced advertising products Joe Marchese, all of whom report to Fox Networks Group president and COO Randy Freer, currently run the ad sales division.

In February, Freer told Adweek that the company expected to select a replacement in late February or early March, well ahead of its upfront, but the company has now missed that target by more than a month. FNG declined to comment to Adweek about the delays, its new timetable for finding a new ad sales chief or who will take the lead in upfront negotiations if Fox Networks Group has not appointed anyone by then.

However, Lefkowitz said it will be business as usual even if the position is still vacant when upfront negotiations begin. “We’re having one of the best years that the company has had. We haven’t missed a stride, and that’s not going to change, regardless of if and when someone comes in, and whom that will be,” he said.

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.