JUNE 2010 PRIMETIME SCHEDULE:
* Bold denotes programming change
While accounting for a small percentage of the primetime line-up, original series are a key component of FX's schedule and brand identity. When originals are on the air they tend to run mid-week, Monday through Thursday, and always at 10PM for content reasons.
While most cable networks heavy-up on original signature series in the less competitive summer months, FX tends to run just one or two originals each month, year-round, including summertime. This June we get the end of JUSTIFIED's first season and an un-promoted second run of FOX series, THE GOOD GUYS.
Original series tend to grab the interest of both audiences and the press, but FX essentially remains a movie network. At best, the primetime schedule is 90% movies, even when multiple nights of originals are running. Original series help to set the conversation and the branding, not the bulk of the programming or the ratings.
JUNE 2010 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / Junel 2010 vs. June 2009 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
June was not the worst month so far this year at FX. It was the second worst. With JUSTIFIED coming to an end early in the month and movies putting forth lackluster performances, nothing spiked the ratings, and audiences turned elsewhere. Adult 18-49 ratings are down by 16% vs. last year and 2% vs. last month. The demo divisiveness of movies was apparent this month vs. last on FX, as only two nights (Monday and Sunday) showed both male and female ratings moving in the same direction. On all the other nights of the week when women gained ratings, men lost ratings, and vice versa.
FX started airing second runs of THE GOOD GUYS on Monday nights in June. THE GOOD GUYS is FOX's cop comedy, produced by BURN NOTICE creator Matt Nix, starring Bradley Whtiford and Colin Hanks, and one of a handful of originals the broadcast nets are premiering this summer. Fox took a leap of faith with the program, ordering additional episodes for fall before its May debut. The gamble has become a "fall liability" according to a TV BY THE NUMBERS readers' poll, as THE GOOD GUYS delivered poor ratings. In a relatively unpromoted move, Fox began running repeats on Friday nights, and in an even quieter move, it started airing on FX as of June 7th. Is this where the series will land in the fall, is it an attempt at make-good audience for advertisers, or is this Fox's way of finding a wider audience for the show? Hopefully it's not that last option, as ratings for the program are almost half FX's Monday-Sunday primetime average. It is FX's gift from its mother network that it would like to return.
On Tuesday June 8th JUSTIFIED, FX's newest success finished up its first season. The season finale drew numbers similar to last month's run...but the loss of the only FX original on the air was missed for both its ratings spikes and its cross-promotional opportunities.
The rest of the line-up was all about movies, which as a whole, performed below last year's and last month's titles. The best night for movies was Sundays, when The Waterboy and Enemy of the State racked in big numbers for men. 27 Dresses was the best performer for women, airing three more times in this month's primetime (it aired five times in May's primetime). There Will Be Blood pulled disappointing numbers.
CABLEU NEED TO KNOW:
In the posturing department, at FX's upfront presentation ad execs tried to position FX's original fare as moving towards the mainstream. They featured a slide placing all of its current and upcoming programming on a continuum, with its edgiest material (IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, SONS OF ANARCHY) towards the left side, and its more mainstream mild shows (LIGHTS OUT and TERRIERS) on the right, with the other shows in the middle.
USA took a shot at RESCUE ME, questioning the ability of dark edgy programming to pull in big audiences in a time when audiences are seeking lighter fare to escape from their financial woes.
And to round it all out, network president John Landgraf toutied the originality of FX's particular brand of programming. "If you watch most television, I think you're not going to be terribly surprised. I don't think most shows are likely going someplace you can't imagine they're going to go, but we're willing to take risks and take the audience someplace new. The type of viewer that enjoys that has very consistently come to FX and has been consistently rewarded."
With that said, comedy is the new black at FX. It's FX's next big thing for both its higher ratings and lower production costs. ARCHER and THE LEAGUE successfully debutedi in the 09/10 season. LOUIE is the newest comedy on the net, debuting in the not-ready-for-primetime 11PM timeslot. But that is just the beginning. The network has claimed it will have eight comedy series running in the 2010/11 season. What are they looking for? "What we want to do with comedies is very much what we did with dramas," said Landgraf. "Put shows on the air that are really smart, really edgy and distinctive." Hopefully they will be funny too, as they distinguish themselves with their own brand of FX humor with an edge.
Further insight into the economic model that drives FX's programming decisions was revealed in a July 19 Broadcasting and Cable article. John Landgraf admits that FX "doesn't even come close to break-even" with its originals. FX is in the original programming game because it helps other facets of the channel's business. "I'm not sure what FX's identity would be if it didn't have any original programming," Landgraf says. "I don't think it would be a brand that both advertisers and viewers would know very much about. So, even though we could make more money theoretically if we didn't make original programming, we would have a weaker channel from a branding, ratings and ad sales standpoint, and a far weaker channel from an affiliate sales standpoint."
FX plans to air 11 original series with 141 episodes in News Corp.'s fiscal 2011.