FX Analysis - December 2009



* Bold denotes programming change


Lately, we have seen movies represent nearly 100% of the primetime fare, but FX has started to bring on more original series this Fall. Originals tend to run mid-week, when they are running - Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, and always at 10PM for content reasons. This month we get drama on Tuesdays with SONS OF ANARCHY and on Wednesdays with NIP/TUCK. Thursdays bring some dark comedy with IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA and raunchy comedy with THE LEAGUE. Bigger movie titles are usually scheduled as lead-ins for high-profile originals.

While original series tend to grab the interest of both audiences and the press, FX essentially remains a movie network. The primetime schedule is 85% movies, even when three nights of originals are running. Original series help to set the conversation and the branding, not the bulk of the programming.

FX was never a network to run multiple encores of its series, a la BRAVO, and it has stopped running encores on Sunday nights, so each program gets just one primetime run. However, movie titles tend to run multiple times throughout the month and successful titles have become monthly staples (i.e. Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Day After Tomorrow, The Devil Wears Prada).


Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / December 2009 vs. December 2008  (% Change)




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Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

December 2009 was FX's strongest month on our records, and the network's PR confirms. "Dec. "09 marked single highest month ever, averaged 1.72 million total viewers and 936,000 A18-49 -tops previous FX high by +14% Total Viewers (1.52 million, 2/08) and +5% in A18-49 (888.000, 2/08)." USA and FX were the only top ten networks to grow 18-49 ratings by more than 10% in 2009. These stats are even more impressive when you consider the slow start FX had this year. But, audiences have short memories, and FX has done a lot for them lately.

SONS OF ANARCHY showed phenomenal growth in its second season, setting the pace for the rest of the net. There was just one telecast in December, the season finale, and it earned more than 25% better men 18-49 numbers over November's run. The entire season two of SONS grew 81% among 18-49's vs. season one.

Which is all very impressive, but it gets better. With just one episode running this month, the other 83% of Tuesday nights were all movies that have run on the network before, yet men 18-49 numbers for all of Tuesday were up by 88% vs. last year. Tuesday was the single highest rated night of the week by comfortable 40% margins.  How could this be? Momentum? Synergy? Remote control muscle memory? Whatever you call it, the programming power of SONS OF ANARCHY is truly a force.

On Wednesdays in December, NIP/TUCK was gearing up for the series finale in January. Ratings improved significantly over November, and the show remains the second-best performer among target women audiences. For some reason, FX is continuing to schedule male-skewing titles as lead-ins.

On Thursdays, ITS ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA continues to shine, growing month-over-month men 18-49 numbers again. According to FX, it grew its adult 18-49 audience by 61% vs. last year. Comedy THE LEAGUE held its audience and its impressive comps vs. last month. Two new comedies, ARCHER and LOUIE, are slated to debut in the first half of 2010 when THE LEAGUE finishes its run. They have some big shoes to fill.

Lately, we have seen that when things are working at FX, they are really working. As each of the four original series grows its audience, movie audiences grow as well.  With a theatrical feel to original programming, and a solid inventory of edgy movies, FX seems to have developed a symbiotic relationship to which audiences gravitate.


The FX reputation was built on edgy original drama series with star power such as RESCUE ME, NIP/TUCK and SONS OF ANARCHY.  Quirky comedies such as IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA are also an FX trademark. The network has succeeded at branding itself as the "HBO of ad-supported cable."  They pride themselves on pushing the boundaries of all popular TV genres.

FX has a long development slate of dark, gritty dramas, yet the network has been slow to pull the trigger on launching new series. Movie acquisitions were far more prevalent for most of 2009 than program launches, dominating over 95% of the network's primetime line-up.  The original programming that does make it to the air has the look and feel of theatricals.

In a July 2009 Broadcasting & Cable interview, FX President John Landgraf admitted the network has been focused on building a warchest of movies and how it is a "slow, incremental process."  He stated that television viewers "are now developing muscle memory for the fact that FX is a place to go for movies," however, he also promised the focus on originals would return, going on record with a goal of "maintaining a mix of six original drama series on the air during any given year (four established players, two more experimental) and ultimately ramp up to four comedies. " So far, three comedies (THE LEAGUE, ARCHER and LOUIE) and three dramas (JUSTIFIED, LIGHTS OUT and TERRIERS) have been picked up. With these greenlights, FX has given series orders to all six of the pilots it produced in 2009 for 2010 debuts.

So what does a program need to be an FX program? In a Broadcasting & Cable interview, John Landgraf says,  "Audacity is a word we use a lot to describe our brand. He adds that FX also has a propensity for "alpha" characters, and the network aims to ride the balance between high-quality, broad entertainment and literary fare. I don't think you'll ever see an FX show on the air that's not about something; about a question worth examining on a literary level over a sustained number of years." The New York Times, in a 12/6/09 article, said "FX prefers to paint the masculine condition in macho extremes, where comedy is "The League," a raunchy series about suburban men obsessed with fantasy football, and drama is "Sons of Anarchy," about an outlaw motorcycle gang in Southern California. FX serves up portraits of men as they wish to be seen."  Well that portrait certainly seems to be working. FX has honed the formula, and is ready to bring it in 2010.