Even with the announcement of “Impeachment: American Crime Story” only a few minutes old, FX Chief John Landgraf faced questions about the September 2020 timing of the release during his biannual executive session at the Television Critics Association summer press tour.
FX announced the pickup of “American Crime Story” Season 3 just a few minutes before Landraf’s session began, noting the premiere of the show would take place just two months prior to the presidential election. Given the repeated calls for impeachment toward President Donald Trump, as well as the series’ dissection of events leading up to the 1998 impeachment hearings for a Democratic president, it’s no surprise the internet was awash with speculation about whether or not the series would become a political talking point.
When asked about tweets asking FX to reconsider its release timing, Landgraf first said, “I think the way we look at ‘American Crime Story’ is as revisionist history. We look at moments in time that involve crimes that can be looked at with much more nuance and gravity of character than they could be at the time [they happened]. I feel completely unabashed in my pride for ‘American Crime Story.’ […] There’s a lot of nuance in the story that people don’t know about yet.”
When pushed for more, he said. “People are going to be very interested in this right around the presidential election, and it’s going to be a great show.”
But later, the release date timing came up again and Landgraf gave a more elaborate answer. “The idea that we can’t have art, we can’t have nuance, is toxic in the media environment,” he said. “I believe very, very strongly in the art we’re making. I don’t think ‘Crime Story’ is going to decide the next presidential election. I think that’s a little hysterical [to say that] from my standpoint. I’m insistent that I’m going to support artists and make great art and put it in the time and place where people are going to watch it.”
“Impeachment: American Crime Story” — which Landgraf alluded could be officially titled, “The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton: American Crime Story” to kick off his executive session — “focuses on events that led up to and through the Ken Starr special counsel investigation,” Landgraf said. It’s “told through the point of view of the many women swept up in that maelstrom.” Monica Lewinsky, who will be played by Beanie Feldstein in the series, is on board as a producer.
Earlier in the panel, Landgraf addressed the importance of the FX brand within the broader Disney portfolio. This was his first executive session to be held after Disney’s acquisition of Fox (and thus FX Networks) was formalized, and Landgraf said the demand for content will not affect the quality of FX originals.
“FX will increase the output of its originals, but — and this is really important — we’re going to remain measured in our approach,” Landgraf said. He added that the company’s approach was “not as much as we can, as fast as we can,” and FX will continue to “put every single show through a filter of originality and excellence.”
He also said those goals “fall perfectly in line” with the culture and expectations at Disney.
During the unscripted portion of his session, Landgraf stressed how important brands are in terms of standing out when so much television is being produced. “There’s a lot of really good stuff that gets swallowed by the volume,” Landgraf said. “Quality gets overwhelmed by mediocrity. […] There are brands that remain a focused beacon of quality. HBO, credit to them, continues to do that. Their latest round of programming has been [really good].”
FX has always put a high value on quality, especially in terms of awards. When the Disney merger was announced, people worried the demand for more content would affect the overall caliber of the FX slate — similar to how worries about HBO’s quality came up after it was purchased by AT&T. Landgraf has never been a fan of the “quantity over quality” strategy, making his assurances to critics that FX’s original mission statement would not be altered by its new parent company an expected, but important, moment in today’s talks. Only time will tell if they bear out.