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FX’s John Landgraf On Why Emmys Are Necessary, But What He Worries Now ‘Cheapens’ the Award

As it looks to expand into additional genres like variety, late night, and documentaries, Landgraf hopes FX will be more competitive with HBO on the awards front in the coming years.

Donald Glover and John Landgraf'Atlanta' TV show premiere, After Party, Los Angeles, USA - 19 Feb 2018'Atlanta' Season Two Premiere

“Atlanta’s” Donald Glover and FX Networks CEO John Landgraf

Rob Latour/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

As Emmy campaigning gets out of control, network execs can’t help but gripe at the amount of time and resources that now go into the race. But yet, they know they’ve got to be in it to win it.

Netflix, for example, recently hired Oscar consultant Lisa Taback and her team to expand the streaming service’s awards strategy. Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos has been bullish on awards, and it paid off this year with 112 nominations — the most of any outlet.

For FX Networks CEO John Landgraf, the Emmy Award, along with critics’ reviews, is still the best way to qualitatively measure a network. And for a brand that strives to be “best in class,” Landgraf said it’s important that FX take home some gold.

“That’s the only independent yardstick we have,” Landgraf told IndieWire. “I can raise my hand and say we have the best shows on TV, but with all due respect, the audience isn’t looking to me to be the arbiter of their taste. They’re looking for objective bodies. It’s the most objective one out there, and it’s a third party.”

FX received 50 Emmy nominations this year, putting it in fourth place among all programmers (behind just Netflix, HBO, and NBC). But for Landgraf, who sees HBO as his closest competitor, that’s not good enough. And it’s one reason Landgraf is eager to expand into new programming genres, including variety, talk, documentary and more: To be on more equal footing with HBO.

“When you go into quantifying it, you see the FX brand and HBO brand are very close, they’re neck and neck,” he said. “But we haven’t been that close in Emmy nominations. And part of that is because they program so many categories. When you get into the things that we do, in parallel — dramas, comedies and limited series — it’s been a very close horse race for a long time.

“When you look at the fact that HBO consistently gets a lot of acclaim and makes a lot of great television, I think even being a best in class brand to compete with HBO, we’re going to have to make some more,” he added. “Ultimately I don’t get to decide whether we get to make some more because I’m not writing the checks. But if you ask me where I think FX ought to go, we should continue to do what we do well and invest in ‘best-in-class’ programming. And to be a ‘best-in-class’ brand we have to do a little more and be across more genres.”

The goal: More awards, and more critical acclaim — making the FX brand more valuable in an ever-increasing landscape.

But that’s not to say that Landgraf is thrilled with what it takes to land an Emmy nomination, or win, these days.

“It has all the characteristics of a political campaign,” Landgraf said. “And I think it really cheapens the award. It cheapens the process. It makes it about power. It makes it about success and money and about things other than what it was originally intended to be about, which is an industry taking the time and the energy to recognize what is best as an encouragement for the industry to do better. And make better things.”

Landgraf said he can appreciate the awards economy, and how it contributes to the financial health of everything from media publications to caterers and venues. But “if I could eliminate it and go back to the notion of people voting on what they think is best, I would do it in a heartbeat.”

The sheer amount of programming has also limited how many shows and networks are invited to the Emmy table. It also means audiences have likely only seen a small portion of the major nominees.

“One of the things I miss and I think television has lost is a sense of a shared communal experience and the sense that a significant portion of the American population would watch ‘MASH’ on a given night, or ‘All in the Family’ or ‘Roots’ or something like that, and then talk about it the next day,” Landgraf said. “I think that common experience also created a compelling Emmys. Because essentially a large part of the audience had seen the same shows that were being judged.

“Now, just like everyone seems to have their own news, and their own source of political insight, tailored to their own interest, everyone has their own television,” he added. “And your television and my television are different. I think that’s made it more challenging for the Emmy broadcast. No matter what they do, they can’t address everybody’s favorite.”

The CW president Mark Pedowitz remains frustrated that none of his network’s series like “Jane the Virgin” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” are even nominated: “We’ve never gotten that recognition and I say we deserved it,” he said.

YouTube Originals global content head Susanne Daniels said perhaps the Emmys should have more categories to include more: “I don’t know how to fix it, but it’s a problem,” she said.

And then there’s the issue of the telecast itself. As the Academy Awards introduces controversial tweaks (including a Most Popular Picture award) to goose ratings, Landgraf admits that there’s no obvious answer to attracting audiences to the telecast given how fractured TV viewing has become.

“I’ve been on the board of the Academy three separate times, and as long as I remember we’ve been having the same challenge, which is, how do you give out 22 awards in three hours and have enough comedy or enough performance to appeal to the audience? But 22 awards are not nearly enough to adequately address the scale of television today,” he said.

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