FX Will Show America’s Uncomfortable Truths in Its People v. O.J. Followup About Hurricane Katrina

Network hasn't second-guessed its decision

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The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story has been more successful than even FX could have imagined. The miniseries won nine Emmys in all Sunday night, including outstanding limited series, and was watched by an average of 12.6 million people across all platforms.

Now FX is shifting its focus to the second season of American Crime Story, which will focus on Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. The decision raised eyebrows when it was first revealed in January, given that the topic would seem to be less palatable to audiences than People v. O.J. was.

Yet the network has never wavered in its Katrina plans, says FX Networks CEO John Landgraf, who noted that a 10-episode miniseries focusing on the Simpson trial was met with just as much initial skepticism as Katrina was.

Katrina "was our only choice from the very beginning," said Landgraf. "If we're all honest—and I'll be honest on my behalf—when we heard they're going to make something based on The People v. O.J. Simpson, it was like, 'Really? Do we really need that?' Because essentially on its face, what we had is cheesy, self-serving, profit-seeking, poor narrative built around that story. The reason we wanted to do it was that we could see from Jeff Toobin's book and from [Scott] Alexander and [Larry] Karaszewski's scripts and through our producers, that actually it was something much richer and more humane and deeper."

Then, after People v. O.J. became a critical and commercial success earlier this year, "basically the television industry as a whole announced they were going to remake every true crime story ever made," said Landgraf, referring to projects like NBC's upcoming take on the Menendez Brothers murders and the myriad of programs related to JonBenet Ramsey. "Our point of view was, yeah, but that's not what O.J. is. It is a true crime story in the way that The Americans is a spy thriller and The Shield and The Wire are cop shows, but that's not really what they are."

Instead, said Landgraf, Ryan Murphy and the show's producers "are really taking the true crime genre and building it into something much more ambitious, much more literary and much more about today. You have to still have good characters and good story, and so we made a really conscious choice not to just pick a salacious true crime, but to take on another story where people's reaction was probably going to be similar to O.J.: 'Really? Katrina? Why?' And the answer is because there were crimes in there and it's fascinating. It's a disaster movie, but it's got this much richer, deeper, more complicated human story on the top of it, so I'm really excited."

The Katrina season "is going to be, tonally and thematically, incredibly different. I think every year the show will change and morph based on the crime that we're exploring," executive producer Brad Simpson said last month at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour. "But really it's going to be about two things. One is just the intensity, what it was like to be there on the ground, to be in that pressure cooker. But also, thematically, the bigger crime, which is that Katrina was something that was predictable that we weren't prepared for, even though we knew it was going to happen. And like O.J., I think it turns a lens back on America, and shows some uncomfortable truths about it."

Though no casting has been announced, producers hope that the cast will feature several actors from The People v. O.J. Simpson, three of whom won Emmys Sunday night for their performances: Sarah Paulson (Marcia Clark), Sterling K. Brown (Christopher Darden) and Courtney B. Vance (Johnnie Cochran).

FX now has three ongoing anthology-type series from Murphy: American Horror Story, which returned for its sixth season last week, American Crime Story, which is set to return in 2017 with Season 2, and the upcoming Feud, which will focus on legendary Hollywood battles, beginning with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, who clashed while filming What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Susan Sarandon will play Davis; Jessica Lange will play Crawford.)

Each of Murphy's three FX shows "are so different," said Landgraf. "I feel like Ryan kind of invented the form … but if Ryan has three wildly divergent, wildly distinctive ways of exploiting this form he created, okay. Who am I to say there's not enough room at the inn for that?"

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV/Media Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.