If, by chance, some U.S. network or cable honchos were to come to Canada to talk up their content, the ones you'd want to meet and greet are from FX Networks.
Cable channel FX, in its short history of producing original series, has an astonishing pedigree of quality shows – The Shield, Sons of Anarchy, Justified, American Horror Story, The Americans, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The League, Louie and Wilfred. The arrival of The Americans a few months ago signalled that FX has the knack for finding, developing and airing the unusual, challenging and entertaining.
As FX Networks president and general manager John Landgraf sees it, "We look to HBO as our main competitor." He says only four channels – AMC, FX, Showtime and HBO – produced 80 per cent of the top-quality TV of the past decade. Further, he says, "Everyone is doubling down on content. Everybody wants to use this period to make more and better television. The losses in the theatrical feature-film business are TV's gain, especially for these four channels. There isn't a single producer, director, writer or actor [from the movie world] that isn't available to us now."
Landgraf was in Toronto, along with Eric Schrier, head of series development, because of the FX Canada channel, owned by Rogers. And because soon there will be two FX channels here – FXX Canada will launch in January – and he's having meetings with people who want to develop Canadian productions for them. (He asked me for suggestions and names, which is more than most Canadian execs do, and I gave him some. So, by the way, if you cut me dead on the street recently, you're outta luck.) The main point of his visit, however, was to point to some upcoming FX content. In this case, the sizzle reel actually sizzled, red-hot. The Bridge, starting in July, looks stunningly good – it follows two detectives, American Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger), from El Paso, Tex., and Mexican Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir, Oscar nominee for A Better Life), from Chihuahua State Police, as they work to catch a serial killer operating on both sides of the border. What ignites the case is a victim, an American judge known for anti-immigration views, found dead on the bridge connecting El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. Derived from a Swedish series, the show looks starkly bleak, it's terrifying and, of course, connects with so much immigration concern in the United States right now.
FX's Fargo, arriving in early 2014, is loosely based on the classic Coen brothers movie. Unlike other attempts to squeeze a TV series from that film, this short-run series – to be made in Manitoba – is anchored in the feel and tone of the movie, not in the same characters. Instead of diluting the characters, the core nuances and humour are nourished. And there's major crime, too.
The Strain, also coming in early 2014 on FX, is an eye-popping excursion into a twist on the vampire myth from filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, who also co-wrote the novel trilogy it's based on. A breakout of an ancient and especially nasty strain of vampirism in New York is the starting point, and most of the series will be made in and around Toronto.
There are other enticing series coming. And what is particularly interesting is Landgraf's detachment about whether show concepts will last for multiple TV seasons. In the case of Fargo, he says, it will be one batch of episodes, and, for now, that's the only concern. "Why don't we just do something that we don't have to worry about sustaining, year after year?" he asked rhetorically. He described the FX approach as "wave after wave" of programming, rather than clutching at a small number of shows for years. "The viewer wins," he said. And, so far, I can't say he's wrong.