Disney appoints John Landgraf to lead Onyx Collective and Nat Geo
The guy who created “Peak TV” and brought you “Atlanta,” “American Horror Story” and “The Bear” added some improbable blunders on Tuesday.
When John Landgraf speaks, TV reporters don’t just listen—they frantically transcribe.
Let’s be clear: He is considered a Landgraf the brilliant television executive in Hollywood. When he speaks at the TCA (Television Critics Association) held twice a year, the ballroom is packed with faces that other executives will never see when they look back. His professorial poise, snappy delivery and rapid-fire speaking pattern (Landgraf speaks like the characters on Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing,” which he developed at NBC) mean a lot — and no fluff.
Instead, Landgraf delivers news, regular “Peak TV” (a term he coined) updates, and thoughtful opinions on nuanced topics and the industry in general. It does not dodge, it reduces the spin to a minimum. Landgraf’s executive session is a must-see for TV critics, many of whom date back to the days when Landgraf made “Friends” a must-see TV staple. Regardless of age, every critic in the hotel ballroom disproportionately rewarded FX series for placing on their Top 10 list, another FX research chart that Landgraf aims to break every year.
Landgraf is so well-respected that he has been dubbed “the mayor of television.” This nickname is often attributed to Rolling Stone’s senior TV critic Alan Sepinwall, who emailed us: “John gave himself this nickname when he wanted to be technical. In one of his TCA speeches, he said something like, “If I were the mayor of Television, I would do something. But I’m not the mayor of television. And several people in the room then agreed that he is now clearly the mayor of Television. I may have been the first to publish something that made sense.”
As we said above, it’s a frenetic typing situation with Landgraf on the podium, and Alan won that race. Personally, we think Landgraf is more of a television Yoda, with the fringe benefits of Disney’s corporate synergy. (“The Mandalorian” Season 3 premieres today on Disney+!)
Perhaps it goes further than that, and the preacher’s kid Landgraf gets his TV ideas from a higher power. (Insert your own joke about being God, Ryan Murphy, or Noah Hawley here. Another joke about Bob Iger there is God probably isn’t needed, although The Walt Disney Company can certainly feel that way.)
Thanks to the promotion of his boss, Disney Entertainment co-chairman Dana Walden, Landgraf is no longer just the smartest person in the FX office—he’s now the smartest person in the room during high-level meetings. Also Onyx Collective and Nat Geo. Landgraf has decided not to add those brands to his title, a person familiar with the plans told IndieWire, and his business card will remain “President of FX and FX Productions.” It’s probably something between a legacy game and a gesture of respect for his fellow brand presidents.
The optics of putting a white man at the helm of Onyx Collective, which consists primarily of content created by people of color, aren’t great, but it’s hard to argue with Landgraf’s ability to promote a premium TV brand focused on original scripts. One way to avoid confusing Onyx Collective, Disney’s collection of streaming shows featuring underrepresented groups, with BET fare is by pitching the FXX and “FX on Hulu” brands as decent ideas.
Additionally, Walden’s new senior management structure allows Tara Duncan, a black woman who oversaw both Freeform and Onyx, to focus solely on Onyx. Duncan, 40, will report to Landgraf, 60, who will guide him in building the brand, which has already won an Oscar for “The Summer of Soul.”
In a memo sent to staff by IndieWire on Tuesday, Walden said Onyx Collective “remains a huge priority” for Disney. Meanwhile, ABC Entertainment and Duncan’s former Freeform programming and development businesses were led by Simran Sethi, who will continue to report to Craig Erwich. This is also Sethi’s promotion.
It looks like an even bigger draw under Nat Geo Landgraf. Landgraf is known for high-end, fast-paced scripted dramas; National Geographic is not.
“I can see Onyx fitting easily into (Landgraf’s) vision. Great for scripted TV,” Sepinwall wrote to us. “Nat Geo is a bit off topic, but FX has had success with documentary, and Nat Geo’s scripted content could be much better.”
Basically, Nat Geo’s script consisted of the anthology series “Genius” and “The Hot Zone,” both of which last aired in 2021 (Aretha Franklin for “Genius” and Anthrax for “Hot Zone”). “Genius” took the Emmys by storm, but let’s face it, when you think of Nat Geo TV, you think of bland nature shows.
This is already changing. Courteney Monroe, Nat Geo’s president of content and direct reporting for the new Landgraf, is using her celebrity Rolodex a lot more these days. He still has acts with zebras, but also with Chris Hemsworth, James Cameron and Ryan Reynolds.
Like Duncan, this isn’t a demotion for Monroe. The makeover now sees him overseeing the brand’s digital footprint, as well as the print magazine, as well as continued direct oversight of the cable channel’s original content strategy. We understand that Nat Geo’s TV strategy will not suddenly shift to a more scripted slate.
Monroe reported directly to Walden. This whole shift will simplify the reporting structure of the suddenly very busy Walden, and Landgraf will not be involved in programming decisions for Nat Geo or Onyx. The deals as a whole could be a different story, our insider said.
We can promise this much: the summer TCAs will need a bigger ballroom.
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