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Brilliant But Canceled: FX's John Landgraf on Terriers' Cancellation

Critics and audiences alike were disheartened--if unsurprised--by FX's decision to cancel the critically-adored but low-rated freshman drama series Terriers this morning.

The announcement about the fate of Terriers, created by Ted Griffin and executive produced by Shawn Ryan, was made via a PR email to press members, which promised further information and a statement from FX president John Landgraf at an unprecedented telephone press conference later today.

Many of us were curious to see just what Landgraf had to say about the network's decision not to bring Terriers back for a second season (and why he was willing to host this conference call), though the writing was on the wall for the drama, considering the ratings chart that FX sent out this morning, which compared Terriers's thirteen-episode run with that of fellow FX series Dirt, Damages, The Riches, and Over There, all of which were canceled by FX yet all had significantly higher ratings than Terriers (more than two times), particularly in the key Adults 18-49 demographic.

(It's worth noting that Damages was rescued from the scrapyard by DirecTV's The 101 Network, which will air the next two seasons exclusively.)

Landgraf said that he had met with Ted Griffin, Shawn Ryan, and Tim Minear on Friday to have a "postmortem" for the show and told them that the network would not be picking up Terriers for a second season. Landgraf called New York Magazine's decision to name Terriers as the third best show of 2010 "bittersweet."

The reason behind the call with press? An effort at transparency, which is something that Landgraf believes in both internally and externally. Given the support the show received from the creative community, Landgraf didn't want press to speculate about why the show was axed.

Landgraf did take some umbrage at the notion that the terrier-centric billboard campaigns in New York and Los Angeles affected the ratings (he went as far as saying that FX's marketing team had unfairly taken the blame for the series' failure), particularly as the on-air campaign tested well with the network's 600-person focus group, who felt that it captured the tone, setting, and plot of Terriers.

"For whatever reason the show didn't work, it wasn't because the promos didn't show Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James..."

So what did the postmortem findings show about why Terriers failed?

"People felt the show was compatible with the FX brand but dissimilar to other FX shows," said Landgraf about the postmortem he had with the series' producers. "The things that were wonderful about the show were subtle... It had a subtle charm that crept up on you. [But] I don't know if subtlety is something that the American public is buying in droves today."

(Interestingly, the focus group testing showed that the perception was that Terriers was "less sexy [and] less edgy" than FX's other programming.)

The numbers, according to Landgraf, further supported this: Terriers was losing 47 percent of its lead-in audience an dropped an average of 16 percent over the course of its hour run.

"What would I have done differently? At a minimum, I'd probably call it 'Terriers: PIs," said Landgraf, chuckling.

"The show failed to launch," he continued. "It was the weakest premiere that FX has ever had... One of the luxuries that cablers have that broadcasters don't is that we could leave it on-air... You put things out there, you give people the opportunity to find it and sample it, and talk to their friends."

He pointed out that FX's upcoming drama Lights Out is unique in the respect that it's the only show featuring an ex-boxer trying to make it, whereas there is a lot of familiarity with buddy private detectives. Clearly, FX couldn't make the public feel that Terriers was innately different or superior to those similar series that came before.

"There's a relatively low correlation between excellence and commercial success," said Landgraf, who went on to say that FX is committed to finding the overlap. "We just try to make really good shows."

"Part of what was great about Terriers was its integrity and its subtlety. Season Two would have been great and it would have been better than the first. But the question was, can we at FX justify [a second season] as a business?"

Despite being heartbroken about FX's decision, I do applaud Landgraf for taking the time to make the network's decision-making process transparent and speaking to press about the reasons and rationale behind the cancellation. Series, even beloved ones, get axed all the time without the sensitivity and grace shown by FX in this case. ("I'm glad that some people saw it and loved it," he said courteously thanking members of the press for supporting the show and writing about it. "That's not nothing.")

"One of the things we've done well is take risks and continue to put shows on the air," said Langraf. "The reality is that this is hard when you're aiming for creative excellence... and commercial success," said Landgraf, somberly.

"This isn't the first really good show that we've had to cancel and it won't be the last."

Comments

TravD said…
I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with Landgraf on the point about marketing. The campaign leading up to the premier was abysmal, barely giving the audience any information about the show. I myself only watched because I know FX's good track record with shows. But look at the campaign that's going on for "Lights Out" right now. Anybody who's been watching FX knows that the network has been selling the new show pretty aggressively with fairly lengthy spots that give you an exact sense of what the show will be. Being such a great program, Terriers deserved this same kind of devotion from the network. I can't help but feel that FX just screwed up with the way they handled this one. At any rate, it's sad to see such a great show end so prematurely.
Yeah, the one counterpoint to Landgraf's defense of Terriers' marketing is that the criticism wasn't coming from LA and NY and wasn't about billboards. It was coming from all over the country and was about those cutesy TV spots about the dog.
Chris said…
Sorry Landgraf but it was those damn tv spots after all. Beyond dumb campaign. Was all marketing's fault. When I asked people why they didn't watch the show they all said because the ads made it look stupid.
Anonymous said…
Agree with all. Find it offensive that he's suggesting otherwise. Know when to take the blame...
Anonymous said…
If you make an admittedly "excellent" product and it fails to sell, there is no option other than it being a marketing failure. This was a show that was growing by word-of-mouth, and you know why? Because that's the only way that anyone ever heard of it!!! BIG fail on the part of FX & marketing. Shameful that a good show is being dropped rather than marketing getting their act together over the summer by quickly releasing Season 1 to DVD/Starz/etc and making a proper effort to get it seen in Season 2.
Anonymous said…
The American TV watching public is getting dumber and dumber. Sure, cancel "Terriers" but keep giving us that Kardashian crap.
zotmania said…
Sorry Mr. Landgraf but your marketing team failed. I know exactly what "Lights Out" is about and FX is being very aggressive in its promotion of it. I had no idea what "Terriers" was about. Only because of Shawn Ryan ("The Shield") did I even take interest. Glad I did because "Terriers" was superb. You let Shawn Ryan down. Too bad, considering he put FX on the map.
Anonymous said…
What a load of crap.... And I also find very offensive that he would suggest that the failure didn't have anything to do with FX...

Very sad to see Terriers go.
abbytaz said…
I'm sorry but in my opinion focus groups are hit and miss. And in this case it was a total miss. The marketing for this show was terrible and barely noticed. They showed the group a promo, then a couple of eps, then a promo again. This controlled focused atmosphere is unrealistic. When you're at home there are so many distractions and if a promo ad doesn't grab your attention then you won't see it.

Also even though I still think Landgraf is an idiot (Damages cancellation), I will give him credit for having the conference call that was pretty classy.
Anonymous said…
yes i live in canada, there was no advertsiment up here for the show, and i watched it, loved it, and would watch season2, if there was one,i thought it was the 2nd best show, on any network ,(sons of anarchy being number 1), how did i find out about the show? fx network web page,but i love san diego, so any show about that town, and staring donal logue,is worth the chance, and it was,sorry i woill not be able to see season 2,
Lucas Corso said…
FX had a great opportunity here to show everyone it has a commitment to quality programming. FX failed. Landgraf showed himself to be nothing other than a network whore. At the end of the day, the talk of programming "excellence" is just lip service. It's all about the money. And nothing but the money. Too bad there is no room for art.
Lucas Corso said…
One more thing: If Landgraf thinks I'm going to watch Lights Out or anything else he puts on the air, he can forget it. FX showed its stripes. I'm done with the network. Forever.
Shaun Firth said…
I think it's interesting that everybody is blaming the marketing dept. Yes, Landgraf has to defend his staff, but with this much negative reaction, I think it's pretty plain to see who's to blame. I live in Canada and the show wasn't broadcast here, so I had to download all the shows and can't comment on the advertising. But I can tell you that everybody I talked to about the show thought it was reality TV about dogs. So start with a terrible name and then miss the whole point of the show, and of course you're not going to be able to sell it effectively. All that having been said, I do agree with one thing Landgraf mentioned. Subtlety and creativity are not highly valued by most US TV viewers. If it was, Kardashians and Hasselhof's wouldn't be so popular. I remember when Sports Night suffered the same fate. My friends all thought it was a sports highlight show. Or how about Firefly, another Tim Minear show that didn't find it's audience until it was too late. Meanwhile, come January, the bombastic American Idol will be back on. If there is any show more guilty of destroying American broadcast storytelling, I can't think of it. Unfortunately, shows like Terriers will continue to suffer the same fate. In fact, if it had been on a broadcast network instead of a satellite provider, it would probably have been canceled after 4 or 5 episodes, like Minear's "Drive" a few years back. Imagine if Cheers, or MASH had been produced today. These are two shows that didn't find an audience until their second season, and went on to change the face of television. I'm afraid in this age of PVR's and online distribution and Netflix the shows that strive for excellence will always fall victim to the bean counters. And that's truly a shame. I think I'm done with FX though. How many times do you have to get your heart broken before you learn your lesson?
JJ said…
Shaun,

I agree with most of your assessment.
Television has evolved and and crumbled (paradox) in so many ways.
I think it's frightful that so many people will tune into Dancing.., Real Housewives of whatever city and countless other shows that do not challenge the mind. Call me a snob but many people do not appreciate good television. We also have to deal with the archaic system of the "Nielson."
I haven't given up on FX because of shows such as Justified.
I loved "Terriers" and Landgraf's conference call was a stroke of genius (in the network's mind). Terriers was a critically lauded show with a boutique following. He decided to offer up some explanation as people would and will continue to criticize FX's decision to cancel.
I do not pay attention to ad's. I pay attention to what good critics and those with good word of mouth have to say.
I'm exhausted by the drab fall season.
I've lost a great deal of faith in television.
Anonymous said…
The tv spots were brutal. This actually is the very first FX show I have EVER watched. Yeah I know, I'm behind the times. I've been through 3 seasons of Nip/Tuck so far though and have been getting more into the FX brand since I started watching Terriers.

I wanted to see the show because I like Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James. There's not much else to it. I think they both have a lot of potential and are inherently interesting people to watch develop a character.

Why did the show fail? I tried to spread the word but a lot of my colleagues don't watch FX to begin with and the rest didn't understand why I'd watch a show all about dogs.

So poor marketing campaign, poor title and we lose what was really the only show I looked forward to watching every week. (Though I admit Boardwalk Empire become highly entertaining the last few episodes.)

To be honest, there just is nothing on TV for me to watch and/or get excited about. Like I said, I'm watching old seasons of Nip/Tuck and loving that much more than any crap on TV now. If we lose Fringe too, I don't know what I'm going to do.

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