What’s so special about FX?
October 09, 2013 | Chris Powell | Comments
A strong lineup heralds the arrival of comedy-focused FXX
While the end of Breaking Bad (sniff) has left a Huell-sized hole on Sunday nights, it is still a great time to be a TV fan. The rise of premium cable channels has led to a bonanza of esoteric TV programming that is thoughtful, well-acted and beautifully shot (no, not you Dads).
And while networks like HBO and AMC have garnered the lion’s share of critical hosannas thanks to shows like Game of Thrones and Mad Men, the 19-year-old FX channel (and its Canadian counterpart FX Canada) has somewhat quietly assembled one of the best lineups on TV.
In fact, with Breaking Bad off the air, FX’s Justified – based on the story “Fire in the Hole” by the late Elmore Leonard and starring Timothy Olyphant – is now arguably TV’s best drama.
Developed by Graham Yost (son of the late TVOntario personality Elwy Yost, whose weekly show Saturday Night at the Movies provided an outlet for non-mainstream movies long before the rise of dedicated movie channels) Justified is one of 13 original series currently airing on FX. It joins older shows including the biker drama Sons of Anarchy, the creepily entertaining American Horror Story, Louis C.K.’s adult sitcom Louie and newer shows like Cold War drama The Americans.
“I feel really good about our current slate,” FX’s president of original programming Eric Schrier told Marketing when in Toronto recently to meet with Rogers Media executives about FX Canada and take in shooting of the new Guillermo (Pacific Rim) del Toro series The Strain – set to begin airing on FX next summer – at Pearson International Airport.
FX has publicly stated its intention to more than double its current original programming slate to between 25-30 series in the next several years. It is also looking to broaden its audience appeal with the launch of a new service called FXX, which is aimed at adults 18-34 (the main FX network’s primary target is A18-49).
FXX is the new U.S. home for FX’s comedy programming, which includes It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The League; another 5-7 pilots are being shot as FX, already strong in the drama genre, looks to bolster its comedy programming.
“Those audiences are all present and will remain present in the main FX brand, but it’s doubling down on our focus on those specific age demographics,” Schrier told Marketing.
A formal launch date for the Canadian version of FXX has not yet been announced, but Schrier expects the service to debut sometime in 2014. He noted that the advertising community has welcomed a channel specifically aimed at the coveted 18-34 demographic.
FX has a global footprint, but FX Canada is the most closely aligned with the U.S. operation said Schrier. Prior to its launch in October 2011, FX programming in Canada was scattered over a variety of services.
“We were introduced to the Rogers [executives] who were really excited about the idea of launching FX here as a distinct channel, and it’s been a great relationship so far,” said Schrier. FX Canada lost $3.2 million on national advertising revenues of $1.4 million last year, but Schrier said that having its shows in an FX-branded environment is leading to both increased subscriptions and ratings.
“Extending the FX brand into Canada has been a very important thing for us and something we’re really excited about growing with the launch of FXX in Canada,” he said.
“In Canada, we saw an opportunity because we share a border and there’s a lot of overlap between the two markets,” he said. “It felt like there was an opportunity to extend the FX brand into Canada and provide a mirror image of what FX is in the U.S.
FX entered into the late-night programming arena last year with Totally Biased, and has now turned its attention to the limited series business. Its first project is a small-screen adaption of the Coen Brothers’ 1996 dark comedy Fargo, a 10-episode series starring Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, The World’s End) and Jian Ghomeshi’s favourite interview subject Billy Bob Thornton, that is currently shooting in Calgary for a 2014 release.
The limited series model has its roots in ‘70s “event” programming like Roots, which gradually fell out of vogue. “They became commodities rather than something that felt uniquely special, or events that had cultural and commercial relevance rather than just commercial fare to fill the airwaves with,” said Shier.
“The genre became kind of tired and [repetitious] while the cost of the type of programming continued to increase and ratings declined. The business kind of killed itself.”