FX chief on Netflix spending $300 million to lure away Ryan Murphy

By James Hibberd
August 03, 2018 at 04:06 PM EDT
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Netflix throwing hundreds of millions at top Hollywood talent to get content for its streaming service is a bit like fishing with dynamite and then claiming you’re a brilliant fisherman, FX CEO John Landgraf says.

Speaking to a couple of reporters at the Television Critics Association’s press tour on Friday, Landgraf ruminated about the loss of top creative Ryan Murphy to Netflix — which paid $300 million to exclusively sign the co-creator of titles like American Horror Story and Pose — as well as the nature of streaming rivals spending (some say overspending) to get competitive in the TV space.

“It’s amazing for me to think Ryan Murphy is receiving as much, or more, as any professional athlete in the history of American sport,” Landgraf said. “I’m the first to tell you he’s a genius. I’m not all that worried about that part of it. We’re not the Yankees or the Red Sox. We’ve never been the biggest payroll. We’ve never been the ones who sign talent away from others. I don’t believe anyone can corner the market on talent. It feels like we’re standing in a crystal clear stream like in A River Runs Through It and we’re fly fishing, and our neighbor [HBO chief] Casey Bloys is up the river, and then somebody comes in with a bag full of hand grenades, pulls the pins, throws them into the river, and scoops up all the fish, and then says, ‘We’re better fishers than you are!’ Okay, that’s some beautiful fish that just got blown out of the river.”

Netflix recently managed to overthrow usual kingpin HBO in Emmy nominations. The streaming service has also lured Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal) away from ABC (at $25 million a year). The moves prompted Warner Bros. to shell out at least $300 million to keep Greg Berlanti (The Flash, Arrow) in-house.

A couple of Murphy’s FX shows in development — Feud 2 and American Crime Story — have been delayed amid creative struggles. With Murphy going to Netflix their futures are less clear.

Landgraf, an executive credited as coining the term “Peak TV” and criticizing the phenomenon of networks pushing out 400-plus scripted shows per year, also lamented how the increased competition is resulting in more and more ideas being ordered straight to series — circumventing the traditional development process.

“Look, it’s really weird and interesting competing against businesses that don’t earn a margin, that are intentionally spending at a loss to take market share and if they can crush your business because you have a margin so much the better,” he said. “Money is only a part of it. I believe in development. I believe in the value of developing a relationship with a creative person and talking at length and deeply reading their scripts and giving them feedback, casting, making a pilot, giving that feedback. I’ve seen over and over again the most original and interesting and difficult ideas take time to develop. If everything starts with a series commitment — there’s a pitch and then a series that’s an example [that can harm the process]. It’s increasingly difficult to get our arms around new material without making commitments that undermine the nature of the development process.”

Which is very true. Some of the most ambitious hits out there like HBO’s Game of Thrones were heavily reworked after their original pilots. Whereas Amazon Studios announced during the press tour last week that they were doing away with putting their pilots online partly because they were doing largely straight-to-series orders.

“One of the things we learned is it took too long to get shows customers wanted,” said Amazon’s co-head of TV, Albert Cheng. “You end up taking way too long to get the actual season done.”