FX has been on quite a roll lately. The channel aired half of the six highest-rated scripted cable series last year, with titles like American Horror Story and American Crime Story coming in just under AMC’s The Walking Dead and HBO’s Game of Thrones. Plus FX tied HBO for the highest number of critically acclaimed shows last year. The executive who’s rightly credited for the network’s success is CEO John Landgraf, who has steered the network since the days of The Shield and has been dubbed “the quiet genius inside your TV.”
Yet every executive tasked with picking hits out of a constant stream of ideas has regrets, and tales of The One that Got Away. For Landgraf, that show is AMC’s Breaking Bad, which would have fit in nicely right alongside the anti-hero dramas that built the network. In fact, Landgraf says it was the channel’s similar programming that was precisely the reason the network passed on the show. So the network instead chose the dark legal drama Damages, starring Glenn Close, and that became a different kind of victory.
“Of course I wish that I hadn’t passed on Breaking Bad,” Landgraf told reporters at the Television Critics Association’s press tour in Pasadena, California on Thursday. “I wish it were a part of the FX brand and legacy instead of AMC’s. But I’m also really glad that we picked up Damages. Damages didn’t turn out to be as important a show culturally or in television as Breaking Bad was but we made a conscious decision that with three shows revolving around white male antiheroes — The Shield, Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me — that it wasn’t a big enough ambition to hold the brand in the long run. We have been the first, frankly, to bring a female movie star of Glenn Close’s stature to television. We flew to her apartment and convinced her to come to be a part of The Shield … And even though that show didn’t win four Emmys in sequence for best drama and it didn’t ultimately win an Emmy as Breaking Bad did, it set the stage for our ambition to bring great female actors [to TV]. We’ve actually had more nominations for mature women than any other brand in television for the last decade. We’ve been relentlessly trying to bring Minnie Driver and Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates and Margo Martindale. We’ve been working on this for a long time. I think the roots of that were in Damages.”
It’s also easy to forget that the premise behind Breaking Bad seemed incredibly bleak when it was first announced — a drama about a man dying of cancer who sells meth. The show also wasn’t a ratings success for its first few years on the air. So while FX may have passed on the series, this was one title that nobody even considered success until years after it launched.