FX Primed to Double Series

Dec 6, 2004  •  Post A Comment

FX’s slow-drip strategy of releasing a single high-profile new original series per year is about to change. According to President of Entertainment John Landgraf, 2005 will see a doubling in the number of prime-time programs on the network-likely including his Iraq war drama pilot “Over There,” created by Steven Bochco. The project is already generating nationwide headlines before a single frame has been shot.

The strategy represents a quickening pace for FX. Despite its bold reputation, FX’s release strategy is cautious, pushing most of its resources and promotion behind a single new drama each year-“The Shield” in 2002, “Nip/Tuck” in 2003 and “Rescue Me” last summer. The strategy has paid off in ratings (third-quarter household viewers are up 26 percent over last year), awards (Emmys for “The Shield,” Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for “Nip/Tuck”) and critical acclaim.

But FX is filling plenty of prime-time slots with “King of the Hill” and “Fear Factor” reruns, and Mr. Landgraf is seeking to replace them with new original programming.

Last week the network announced the first firm new addition to its schedule: a six-episode order of “30 Days,” a reality series by “Super Size Me” director Morgan Spurlock. Other projects in development include the pilot “Channel 101” with actor Jack Black; the ensemble comedy “It’s Always Sunny”; a Ten Commandments miniseries; the drama “Thief,” a pilot starring Andre Braugher; the comedy “Human Animals,” about married documentarians; and the comedy “Starved,” about eating disorders.

Despite Mr. Landgraf’s effort to expand the channel’s lineup since he was hired in January-filling a position previously occupied by NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly-he has wiped from the development slate not only specific programs but entire genres.

“We eliminated everything that was science fiction-oriented, everything that was historical-more than 10 years old-and everything that was related to the entertainment industry,” Mr. Landgraf said.

And there was one more genre to be eliminated: broad-based reality shows. The embarrassing misstep of “Todd TV” strayed from the network’s formula and its rapid demise proved FX’s strengths lie elsewhere.

“I’m proud of the fact we looked at the reality genre and it all seemed the same to me-dating shows, makeover shows, a few good ones and many bad ones,” he said. “I don’t think people are looking at FX and saying we ought to make the fourth-generation dating show.”

Instead, Mr. Landgraf has focused on developing the sort of cutting-edge dramas that have defined the network, as well as single-camera comedies. “It’s Always Sunny,” “Starved” and “30 Days” each are the product of a single talent who acts as writer/director/producer/performer. Mr. Landgraf hopes to launch a one-hour comedy block by next summer.

But it is “Over There” that has dominated recent conversation about FX and will surely continue to impact the network. Previous FX shows have been controversial. But war is always a bigger story-especially a war that’s still in progress.

“How can we be a nation at war, and have been at war three times in the last 10 years, and have this massive industry that pumps out tens of thousands of hours of entertainment, and yet not have one regular series in 13 years [since “China Beach”] about war?” he asked.

Mr. Landgraf said the show is the victim of presumptions from partisans. Progressives are assuming FX’s corporate parent News Corp. will impose right-wing propaganda, and conservatives assume the network is part of the blue state media elite.

“We’ll take the attention when it comes to controversy, but we’re not specifically trying to articulate a point of view,” he said.

Which leaves the show open to another line of attack-by critics who might wonder whether the drama will be too cautious. But playing it safe has rarely been a part of the FX strategy.

“It’s difficult to make gutsy decisions, because nobody ever knows [what will happen],” Mr. Landgraf said. “But if you’re channel 258 and you choose a safe harbor, that’s the riskiest decision of all.”