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TCA Press Tour 2011: FX addresses the competitive cable landscape and introduces a dog to its lineup

January 15, 2011 |  2:06 pm

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FX President John Landgraf has been here before.  His fall drama "Terriers" was critically acclaimed but was rejected by audiences, and now the new midseason drama "Lights Out" may be in the same boat.

The drama about a boxer trying to reclaim his heavyweight title premiered on Jan. 11 to low ratings, which, of course, disappointed Landgraf.

"Maybe we should have made a show about a zombie or a  sexy vampire who's trying to regain the heavyweight title of the world," he said, before noting that he hasn't lost hope because sometimes shows don't start off with a bang but grow over time. Indeed, "Sons of Anarchy," the network's top-rated show, got off to a slow start.

"It's obviously an intensely crowded field," Landgraf said Saturday -- the last day of the Television Critics Assn. press tour. "It's sort of like the feature film business. It doesn't really matter if your movie is good, or if people want to see it. It matters if it's their first choice because they're going to see one movie that weekend."

Langraf noted the hefty competition for "Lights Out" on its premiere night: "The Game," which launched to "historic" ratings on BET; "Teen Mom 2," which scored high points on MTV; and "Tosh.0" on Comedy Central.

"So the question is: are they somebody's first choice?" Landgraf said. "Are they the first choice of enough people to overcome the massive wave of competition that exists in that moment in time in the marketplace?"

Landgraf also pointed out an advantage that premium cable networks HBO and Showtime have over basic cable.

"When you think about how much people pay for HBO and how determined they are to prove to themselves that that was a good decision, they just give those shows more time," he said. "You can put slower shows on HBO and people are going to give it four, five, six more shots. I would say that's probably not the same case at FX."

Landgraf recently won a lot of brownie points with the press when he went off-script and hosted a conference call with reporters to discuss his decision to cancel "Terriers." On Saturday, he explained what motivated him to do that.

"I'm coming up on seven years in this job and in seven years you have some great successes and ... you have some failures," he said. "And I guess you just get used to the rhythms of both in your work, and eventually get to the point where you can embrace your failures and learn from them and talk about them. I think most programming executives are fundamentally too insecure to get to that point. And maybe I'm just old enough and have been doing this long enough that I can take that tack."

After Landgraf's session, FX held panels for returning series "Louie" and "Justified" and a new comedy, "Wilfred."

"Louie" and "Wilfred" will premiere together on Thursday nights in the summer. "Justified" returns on Feb. 9 at 10 p.m.

A single-camera comedy based on an Australian series of the same name, "Wilfred" stars Elijah Wood as a young man struggling to find himself. The show follows his imaginary relationship with a dog, whom he sees as a man in a dog suit. The dog is played by Australian actor Jason Gann, who created the series in Australia with actor Adam Zwar.

Landgraf said he picked up the show because it was "really weird and really different and really original and really funny. And it also has heart, which is odd for a show that's so different."

Gann said the FX version of his show is faster-paced and darker.

"I would not have made another version of 'Wilfred' if I didn't think it could be better," he said. "Wilfred has had a Hollywood makeover. He's had a fur job."

Wood said the show reminds him of one of his favorite movies, "Harvey."

"It also was a wonderful opportunity to do something different, to work in realm of comedy and to be challenged in a way that I haven't before," Wood said.

  Js2ep201_20101022_PG-0168 "Justified" creator Graham Yost said the second season of his show, which is based on an Elmore Leonard short story, will be more serialized and will center on a family feud as well as the idea of second chances.

Character actress Margo Martindale plays Mags Bennett, the matriarch at the center of the family feud between Raylan Givens' family and hers.

"I'll be 60 this summer, so it's great to be able to be a villain at my age," Martindale said during the panel.

Timothy Olyphant, who plays Raylan and thinks "people are crazy" for naming babies after his character, said that Leonard's original story and the writers' scripts make it easy for him to fill his character's shoes.

"If the writing is good, it just makes your job easier," he said. "When writing's not good, it's harder to memorize. It's harder to figure out what you're doing. I find the character rather complicated and quite surprising, and that makes it fun to do."

This season, Raylan and his ex-wife, played by Natalie Zea, become entangled in an affair.  And Boyd Crowder, played by Walton Goggins, struggles with the fact that he no longer believes in God.

"He finds order in the universe when he believes fervently in something, whether it's Nazism, which is [terrible] or God," Goggins said. "And now ... after going down this road of believing in God in order to make sense out of the universe, now he believes in nothing. That's really interesting because I don't know how this guy acts believing in nothing. If you don't have that kind of rigidity for a character like this, then it's absolute chaos."

If you missed the first season of "Justified," you can catch up with DVDs that go on sale Tuesday.

--Maria Elena Fernandez
twitter.com/writerchica


Top photo: Elijah Wood and Jason Gann on "Wilfred." Credit: Michael Becker/FX

Bottom photo: Timothy Olyphant on "Justified." Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX

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