John Landgraf on Ryan Murphy’s Importance to FX and Losing Him to Netflix

The producer ‘can do things that just can’t be done’

John Landgraf said he will greenlight any show that Ryan Murphy pitches him, "nine times out of ten." Getty Images
Headshot of Jason Lynch

During John Landgraf’s 14 years at FX, no single creator has contributed more to the network’s legacy than Ryan Murphy, Adweek’s reigning TV Creator of the Year. Murphy’s groundbreaking shows for the network include Nip/Tuck, American Horror Story, Feud, American Crime Story (whose second installment, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, is currently airing) and the upcoming drama Pose.

Murphy is a “unicorn … a mythical beast that doesn’t even practically exist in the real world,” said Landgraf, adding that he’s in the “one percent of creators/showrunners” who have launched three or more hits. (In addition to his FX output, he also made Glee and midseason breakout 9-1-1 for Fox.)

But Murphy’s relationship with FX is about to change significantly. Two weeks ago, Netflix revealed that it had poached Murphy—whose 20th Century Fox Television pact was up this summer—with a five-year deal, which could be worth as much as $300 million, to produce new shows and movies exclusively for the streaming service beginning July 1.

The producer, who will continue to be involved with his four FX series—American Horror Story, American Crime Story (the latest installment, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, is now airing), Feud and the upcoming drama Pose—spoke with Landgraf to break the Netflix news.

“My initial reaction was that I’m excited for him, because I think he’s excited about the deal,” said Landgraf. “I love Ryan. I’ve been working with him for 14 years. We’ve had an enormous amount of success together.”

In this week’s cover story, Landgraf said that while he’s sorry to lose Murphy to one of FX’s biggest competitors, “I saw that coming for a while.” Ultimately, “I don’t think it changes our business at all,” aside from FX missing out on some new shows from Murphy during the length of his Netflix contract. Landgraf added that Murphy’s three anthological shows for FX could go on “indefinitely,” which means they will likely remain in business together for several years to come.

Landgraf, who clashed with Murphy early in his FX tenure while they were making Nip/Tuck, said it took time for him to appreciate how special the creator was. “What I’ve come to understand about Ryan is that when he gets obsessed with something, it just doesn’t matter how high a degree of difficulty a dive it looks like,” said Landgraf. “He can do things that just can’t be done.”

Now, their relationship has progressed to such a point where “ultimately it just takes one conversation with him now, and if there’s something he wants to do, nine times out of 10 [the answer is] we’re doing it,” said Landgraf. “Because the guy has just proven to me, and frankly to the whole of the business, that he can do virtually anything.”

That’s what happened when Murphy pitched Feud to Landgraf. The producer told Adweek last year that the FX chief “bought it within 30 seconds of me telling him what it was.”

Murphy said at last month’s Television Critics Association winter press tour that he had assumed he’d spend his entire career working for 20th Century Fox Television, until December’s news that Disney would be acquiring 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion.

“I was very not prepared for what happened,” said Murphy, adding that when Disney CEO Bob Iger reached out to him, “I said point-blank, the stuff that I do is not specifically Disney. … Am I going to have to put Mickey Mouse in American Horror Story?”

Landgraf, who has a far more optimistic view of FX’s future under its likely new parent company that Murphy does, said that while he’ll miss having the opportunity to make new shows with the producer, FX Networks is far more than just one creator and will continue to thrive even without new shows from Murphy in the pipeline.

“He has been a wonderful contributor to our brand, but if you walk through our offices, which are adorned with the wonderful marketing that’s been made for the shows we’ve been making the last 14 years, you would feel that Ryan has been a small but important part of our brand,” said Landgraf.

With a slate this year that includes the second season of Atlanta, the final year of The Americans and new drama Trust, “I don’t think I’ve ever felt better about the shows we have in the hopper and that are coming to the market,” said Landgraf. “And frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever felt better about our development.”

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