FX’s Landgraf Is High on ‘Sunny’

Sep 4, 2006  •  Post A Comment

During a June event to celebrate the second-season premiere of FX’s comedy series “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” the network’s president and general manager, John Landgraf, showed a slide projection that he said illustrated his precarious position.

The image showed Mr. Landgraf with several alligators behind him, jaws open, ready to bite his behind.

Three months later, Mr. Landgraf’s posterior is intact, but not for lack of ‘gators. The network endured its biggest content controversy yet after a rape scene involving the lead character appeared on “Rescue Me.” Soon after, the American Family Association convinced T-Mobile to pull its ads from both “Rescue” and “Sunny.”

Where the rubber meets the road, though, the network has traction: The channel is up 5 percent year to year in average prime-time total viewers for June through August, despite not introducing a new drama series during summer for the first time since 2001.

Reflecting on the summer, Mr. Landgraf said last week a renewal for “Sunny” is likely, while acknowledging that pickup for Morgan Spurlock’s investigative docudrama “30 Days” is a more complicated decision.

Danny DeVito joined the “Sunny” cast this year, gaining considerable buzz for the show. Overall viewership remains a bit weak for a top five basic cable network show, averaging 1.3 million viewers for premiere episodes. But compared with the first season, the series increased 15 percent in total viewers and 18 percent in adults 18 to 49. For its four-episode cume-the figure on which the network bases advertising sales-the show jumped 32 percent and averaged 3.1 million viewers.

Mr. Landgraf said a “Sunny” renewal is probable. “I think it’s a good bet,” he said. “I’m really happy with [the growth]. Do I hope that’s the number that `Sunny’ lands at forever? No, but we’re going to work hard to continue to grow it.” If the series is renewed, Mr. Landgraf plans to take the cast on a nationwide tour and to continue promoting the series via original content on its MySpace page.

“They’ll be touring the country for the next eight to nine months and program the Web site in the off season as if it were a channel to maintain the continuity,” Mr. Landraf said. “We won’t let the show go dark.”

As for Mr. DeVito, whose addition to the cast divided some fans, Mr. Landgraf says the actor will likely be a part of the renewal.

“The majority statement is that people thought he added something,” he said. “If we bring it back, I want him to be a part of it.”

As for “30 Days,” the news is less than sunny. Season two was down 34 percent in adults 18 to 49 and down 33 percent in total viewers, running a mere 970,000.

Such figures for a second-season performance would typically doom a series, but Mr. Landgraf said a few factors have made his decision complicated.

Unlike its debut season, “30 Days” did not open with an episode starring Mr. Spurlock, instead saving that episode for last week’s finale. Also, Mr. Landgraf said, the Israel-Lebanon war and other news events kept the media focus away from the domestic issues explored by the show. Plus, Bravo’s time slot competitor “Project Runway” broke records this season.

“That’s where television gets complicated,” he said. “Maybe what it tells me is I need to bring it back next year, maybe have Morgan appear in two episodes … move it to a different time slot.”

In the meantime, the network is gearing up for the fourth season debut of “Nip/Tuck,” which early reviews have praised as being a return to form for the series.

Mr. Landgraf is also contemplating a pick up of the Eddie Izzard drama “Low Life,” whose pilot was recently reshot to add a lighter tone.