FX Mulls More Primetime Movies

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With its high-profile, off-network series acquisitions struggling in the ratings, FX Network is considering airing more movies during primetime.

Sources said the general-entertainment network is aggressively pursuing movie packages from several studios that could be slated for primetime, beginning as early as next September.

It's unclear when the movies would be scheduled, but documents obtained by Multichannel News
show a mock network schedule that has movie product scheduled in the 8 p.m. time slot on Tuesdays and Wednesdays — periods currently occupied by M*A*S*H
and The Practice. The network recently replaced its 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday lineup with feature films.

FX officials denied that any more major time-shifts lie ahead for such high-profile programs as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ally McBeal
and The Practice
in favor of theatricals. Network executives, in fact, said the off-net shows have helped the network significantly increase its December ratings.

FX vice president of public relations John Solberg said the network does not have any plans to change its primetime lineup in the near future. He would not comment on FX's movie studio negotiations.

According to sources, FX figures more movies would boost the ratings generated by its current primetime lineup, one that has already been revamped following the much-touted fall debuts of Buffy, Ally
and The Practice, for which the network paid an average of about $600,000 per episode.

Ally
averaged a 0.4 rating at 8 p.m. from its debut Sept. 24 through Oct. 28 — when the network shifted the series to 11 p.m. and replaced it with The Practice, which also runs at 9 p.m. The 8 p.m. airing of The Practice
was subsequently replaced by sitcom stalwart M*A*S*H
on Nov. 26, after also averaging a 0.4 in the time slot. The female-skewed action series Buffy
has averaged a 0.97 rating in the 7 to 8 p.m. slot.

Beginning Nov. 30, the network replaced its Friday 9 p.m to 11 p.m. lineup with feature films.

Sources said the ratings success of its Friday and Sunday primetime movies — particularly on Sundays, when the Dec. 9 airing of Varsity Blues
and the Dec. 2 showing of Speed
generated 1.96 and 1.66 household ratings, respectively — prompted the consideration of an enhanced movie lineup in the future.

But Solberg downplayed the significance of the movie performances relative to any future schedule changes, saying that the network is now beginning to reap the ratings benefits of its revamped primetime lineup.

Through Dec. 16, FX averaged a 0.78 in primetime for the month, up 10 percent compared with the same period last year, FX senior vice president of planning and research Steve Leblang said. Further, the network's primetime average was up 42 percent over its November 2001 household ratings.

Moreover, Leblang said that M*A*S*H, averaging a .76 rating, had increased viewership from 8 to 9 p.m. by 100 percent over the combined Ally/The Practice
performance since its Nov. 26 launch. M*A*S*H
was also up 60 percent over NYPD Blue's
ratings in 2000 over the same time period.

The veteran sitcom has also surprisingly increased ratings for adults aged 18 to 49 by 75 percent over NYPD Blue's
0.3 with that group last December.

For its part, Ally
has increased ratings in the 11 p.m. time slot by 18 percent during December compared with last year when the X-Show
occupied that position, the network said.

Meanwhile, Buffy's time period grew 18 percent in household ratings, and, importantly, surged 42 percent against the net's 25-to-54 target audience.

"It's a learning process — we said it's a marathon, not a sprint," Leblang said. "We made a couple of adjustments and we've seen some encouraging numbers with our Friday night and Sunday night movies."

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