It’s tough to roast the mayor of television… or is it? Louis C.K., AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan and others took to the task Thursday at the Center for Communication lunch in NYC honoring the exec with the Frank Stanton Award for Excellence in Communication.
Center executive director J. Max Robins skewered Landgraf for his oft-referenced diatribe on the fact there’s just too much TV out there for consumers. But in truth, Robins said, there’s just too much Landgraf. The fascination with him in the media world is simply too much. “The inconvenient truth is it’s simply unsustainable.” In fact, according to the calculation of the Center’s interns, “we believe sometime in the next hour of honoring John we will have reached the very pinnacle of peak Landgraf… And after that… we sadly predict a serious decline.”
Comedian Louis C.K. said what the crowd was likely thinking: “Being at an award ceremony for a television executive is not something I would ever want to do, in my life.” When he met the exec he was doing standup, he said, and a couple years later he was making TV and getting Emmys—and making about half as much money as on the road. “I’m back on the road now, so I can afford making television at FX,” he joked. “Looking back on it, I would take notes—and money.”
In seriousness, C.K. praised the exec for his bravery. “People talk about bravery very easily. They say he’s a brave programmer, a brave executive because he says yes to things. But it’s not that simple. John works for other people. And they’re not as cool as he is.” The scary thing, he said, is moving away from what he knows will work on television, and instead saying yes to shows “that spark your imagination, scare you a little bit… and leave you with questions… It takes a lot of courage to say that’s worth making.” As a result, “all over television people are listening to more kinds of ideas, because this guy shows how they work…He inspires us to do our best work.” Even people like Louis, who is naturally lazy and would really rather be sleeping or eating ice cream.
“The Americans” stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys said Landgraf embodied the networks’ tagline: Fearless. “He is, in my opinion, as peerless as he is fearless,” Rhys said. Russell deemed him “fearless enough to cast an over emotional big-haired college student to play a cold, calculated Russian spy. That takes real creativity to be able to do that.” She praised his support of art, honesty and bravery to make his own choices. “I think of integrity, creativity and the backbone to follow through with his ideas. He’s a rare bird in this business.”
But lest the luncheon divert from its mission, Sapan took the stage to launch a few jabs. He ventured to tell the real truth about the “self-proclaimed mayor of television’s” life. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t really a fearless life peppered with achievements, but rather a “series of disappointments and accidents.” For starters, his father wanted him to be a man of the cloth. But “the closest he gets to important cloth is Giorgio Armani Gold. Nowhere is God anywhere near that conversation,” Sapan said. He moved on to college applications: “Harvard. Rejected. Stamford. Rejected. Yale. Rejected. Pitzer, accepted.” And a note on originality: “If you actually study the history carefully, Michelle Obama gave a speech in 2013… and she talked about too much television.” 384 shows were counted then. “John is not really thinking original thoughts. He’s looking good, but it’s skin deep.”
Closing with sincerity, Sapan said he’s a tremendous admirer of Landgraf and his work. “He’s brought extraordinary things to the screen… and done it with taste, and almost a level of beauty that one doesn’t find in television. And that’s been his legacy.” Sapan said he just watched the 1st ep of FX series “Atlanta,” and remarked that “it will have an extraordinary impact … and elevate anyone who’s around it.”
In his remarks Landgraf chose to share the award with all his colleagues at FX, 21st Century Fox and others. “I’m really just the coach of the team,” he said. He complemented Sapan’s programming chops, including the game changer “Breaking Bad.” “Some of you may know that I famously passed on that show. I can tell you it’s always a really warm feeling knowing that no matter what I achieve in life, my tombstone is going to read, ‘Loving husband to his wife Ally and his three beautiful boys Walker, Wil and Cal, also the idiot who passed on ‘Breaking Bad.’” He said that the brand moniker “fearless” is really for the artists, who “brave the mysteries of life…We’ll do our utmost to inspire the next and what I hope will be far and away the most diverse generations of artists ever to enter our business.”