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How FX Boss Improved Diversity in TV After a "Good, Swift Kick in the Butt"

John Landgraf also dropped some big numbers on the state of Peak TV

Joyce Eng

FX Networks and FX Productions CEO John Landgraf talked the talk and walked the walk.

Disheartened by a November 2015 report by Variety's Maureen Ryan that highlighted the underrepresentation of female directors in TV -- with FX bringing up the rear with 88 percent of its episodes helmed by white males -- Landgraf told Ryan last year that he wanted the numbers to be "different two years from now."

Those American Horror Story teasers were just red herrings

Less than a year later, they're already different. Landgraf revealed Tuesday at the Television Critics Association fall previews that FX has already reduced the ratio of episodes helmed by white male directors to 49 percent after launching an aggressive initiative for inclusion.

John Landgraf Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

"In my view, the state of affairs described by Mo represented a failure of leadership on my part. I immediately set out to correct that error," Landgraf said. "Since we started this initiative, we have booked 149 episodic directors. Seventy-three of those 149 -- or 49 percent -- are white males. Seventy-six of those 149 -- or 51 percent -- are female and/or diverse. Seventeen of these female or diverse directors - 11 percent of the total hires -- have been first-time episodic television directors.

Catch up on all the news from TCA

"At this point we have already seen many finished episodes made by these directors, so many of whom are new to the FX Networks or to episodic TV, and they have done a fantastic job of upholding extraordinary quality of work we have come to expect from our FX shows and those who run them," Landgraf added.

Landgraf thanked Ryan for the "good, swift kick in the butt." "We hope the example of FX more than quadrupling our percentage of diverse and female directors in such a short time sends a message to our whole industry that it is well past time for change to happen -- and that it is only a matter of re-thinking our priorities and of putting in the collective effort for us to make it so," he said.

Sandy Balthaser

Here are other highlights from the panel:

More diverse, unique shows: In the same vein, Landgraf said he wants to create more opportunities for heretofore unseen and unheard stories and voices in TV. He pointed to FX's two new comedies, Donald Glover's Atlantaand Pamela Adlon's Better Things, as examples. "They have a perspective that hasn't been put through that really cinematic lens," he said. "It's not that Donald Glover's the first young African-American male to make a television show. But I haven't seen a young African-American male make this television show with a level of originality and voice and artistry that I think matches the work Louis [C.K.] did on Louiefrom Day 1. And I feel that way about Pamela too." As for future shows, Landgraf said there were a few ideas in the works that he wasn't prepared to announce yet. "Hopefully we'll figure out how to put them together and get them in a position to launch before our competitors do."

A Terriersreboot?: The critically beloved but little-watched Ted Griffin drama was canceled after one season six years ago, but Landgraf hasn't completely ruled out rebooting it. "Yeah, I think about that," he said wistfully. "I think about taking a second shot at that. ... I'm so proud of Terriers. I'm not saying we'll never do a reboot ... but I'm trying to think where is television going next. ... I think one of the reason we went so aggressively into this anthological TV business is it just felt like a new thing to me."

Emmy battle: FX has a first-class Emmy problem in the limited series race, with both The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story and Fargo nominated. American Horror Story had also been a perennial nominee in the category. Landgraf noted that American Crime Story and Fargo would win any other year if they weren't competing against one another. "I think that's a unique challenge," he said. "And yet only one will win this year, and by definition the other is probably going to lose out to the other. There are other worthy competitors. That's going to be really awkward for us. ... It's going to be very difficult for FX to dominate in that category every year. I'm going to look like a fool if American Crime Story or Fargo don't win."

Peak TV: Landgraf busted out his handy research data to report that there are now a projected 430 to 450 original TV shows across all platforms. He predicts that Peak TV won't die down until 2019.


Sandy Balthaser