The competition is finally catching up to FX.
Increased original fare from cable networks such as The History Channel, Bravo and BET are contributing to the sluggish ratings start of its two sophomore series The Riches and Dirt, both of which are down double digits from last season's viewer performances.
Three weeks since its March 2 debut, Dirt — starring Courteney Cox as an unscrupulous tabloid magazine editor — is averaging 1.6 million viewers in its Sunday 10 p.m. timeslot, 25% below the 2.1 million viewers generated for its January to March 2007 run. In the network's target 18-49 demo, the show is down 29% to 1.1 million viewers from 1.5 million in 2007.
Similarly, the March 18 debut of The Riches drew 1.5 million viewers, well below the 4.3 million that the series — which stars Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard — generated in its premiere episode last March.
FX senior vice president of planning and research Steve Leblang said both shows are up against much stronger competition than last year, which accounts for much of the show's declining viewership numbers.
Indeed, Dirt is pitted head-to-head against History's Ax Men, which drew 2.4 million viewers against the FX show March 16. The show is also up against VH1's powerhouse celebreality block, which included Scott Baio Is 46 … and Pregnant. That series drew 1.6 million viewers in its March 16 finale. Last year, Dirt was up against repeats of TNT's The Closer and first-run episodes of BET's reality series College Hill.
As for The Riches, the series' sophomore debut butted heads with new episodes of BET's College Hill: Atlanta and Black Poker Stars, as well as Bravo's new reality series The Real Housewives of New York City. College Hill: Atlanta averaged 1.9 million viewers, while Black Poker Stars — a celebrity tournament featuring such stars as Anthony Anderson — drew 877,000 viewers.
Bravo's Real Housewives drew a series high 944,000 viewers against The Riches in the 10 p.m. time slot.
Not that last season was a cakewalk for The Riches: The series had to wrestle with a perennial ratings grappler, World Wrestling Entertainment's Monday Night Raw, and MTV's popular reality series The Hills, as well as repeat episodes of Law and Order on TNT.
“Five years ago there was a small list of original series that cable networks were offering in prime time,” Leblang said. “This year cable networks are offering 59 original series in total during the 2007-08 season, a five-fold increase since 2002.”
In addition, Leblang said that new technologies such digital video recorders have cut into the premiere audiences for Dirt and The Riches. Last year, DVR numbers for both shows added 300,000 more viewers to the overall tally, and Leblang expects a similar increase this year.
FX also said it will debut the third season of its reality series 30 Days on June 3. The six-installment season will find creator and host Morgan Spurlock working in a coal mine and living on a Native American reservation.