MAY 2011 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. Original series help to set the conversation and the branding, but movies still comprise the bulk of the programming and the ratings.
Most cable networks air the majority of their original signature series in the less competitive summer months, but FX likes to play in the pond with the broadcast networks, heavying up on originals in September and January. FX blatantly bucks the cable trend of launching and showcasing marquee programming in the summertime, typically running just one or two originals over the course of the summer.
When originals are on the air they tend to run mid-week, Monday through Thursday, and always at 10PM for content reasons. However, the door has been opened to moving a drama such as JUSTIFIED to the 9PM slot, thereby creating a companion programming strategy for dramas.
In September, FX added TWO AND A HALF MEN to the primetime line-up; the first time an acquired off-net comedy ran in primetime in a few years (THAT '70s SHOW was once a Friday night staple). The program is not used as a strip, but acts a two-hour comedy block on Thursdays and Saturdays. TWO AND A HALF MEN also runs in daytime / early fringe along with some other acquired sitcoms (MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE, THE BERNIE MAC SHOW). The program met with success, and HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER will join the line-up this fall.
MAY 2011 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / May 2011 vs. May 2010 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
MAY 2011: In a month when many cable nets tumbled from last year and hit their 2011 lows, FX managed to build core men 18-34 from last year while holding on to April's viewers. The network has been pacing above 2010's audiences all year, particularly among men.
FX's ever-expanding library of acquired theatricals certainly has a lot to do with that success. This month's best ratings grabber was Iron Man with its three primetime telecasts ranking number one, number two and number eleven for the month among men 18-34. Comic book hero movies are a reliable genre for FX, and the network can be counted on to snap up new releases right after opening weekend. (Green Lantern, Green Hornet, Transformers, X-Men). In an effort to expand upon the genre and maximize programming flow, FX is working on a scripted original in the genre right now (POWERS). "Children & Family" movies also do well, usually popping numbers whenever they appear. Madagascar and Ice Age are good examples of this. Kung Fu Panda benefited from the theatrical release of the sequel this month, and made the top program rankers. We wonder if FX has considered entering the family genre with its originals.
TWO AND A HALF MEN also helped FX this month. Numbers are up from last month, although they are down from their March high when publicity surrounding Charlie Sheen was also at a peak. The program does push up the median age of the young-skewing network; it is the only program to grab bigger ratings among 25-54s than 18-49s. But the program serves as an excellent lead-in to Thursday night comedies. It helped ARCHER last month, and in June it helped with the successful launch of WILFRED (the highest ratings ever for a comedy series debut on the network - FX) and improved ratings for LOUIE (1.6 million total viewers and 1.0 million with A18-49, scoring a +42% increase in both demos over the show's first season bow on June 29, 2010 at 11p - FX).
The last two episodes of season two of JUSTIFIED ran this month. Core men 18-49 ratings were about the same as both last year and last month, while supporting demos (men 25-54, women 18-49) pulled in stronger increases. The show's broadening audience is evidenced with the 14% growth on households vs. last year.
With JUSTIFIED off the air for the last three weeks of May, top-billed movies moved back to Sundays, and helping to lift the night with an impressive 46% jump on men 18-49.
Historically, April is the lowest rated month of the year at FX, and 2011 is poised to follow suit. Core adult 18-49 ratings are down 20% from March, yet they are 7% better than April 2010.
The ratings leader on FX this month was JUSTIFIED. While the occasional movie or episode of ARCHER might have broken into the program's sweep, JUSTIFIED averaged out at the top of the men 18-49 and household ratings rankers. In addition to its loyal fan base, JUSTIFIED had the unexpected advantage of a Wednesday night run; 2011 turned out to be a competitive cable arena for young demos on both Tuesdays and Thursdays. The program lost a little steam from last month and last year, down 5% or so on core men, but in the context of the bottom-line, it was ahead of the game. The program will be back for a third season in first quarter 2012. And, in a story of synergy, the success of the program has inspired author and executive producer Elmore Leonard to write a full-length novel based on the lead character, Deputy Raylan Givens. The program was originally based on a short story penned by Leonard.
LIGHTS OUT didn't finish up as well on Tuesday nights. The program never caught on with viewers, and nose-dived this month with a 20% loss on men 18-49. Network president John Landgraf has been candid about its failure, looking to everything from DVRs to iPads to BET's THE GAME for its small audience. Nonetheless, the network stays committed to producing scripted originals in the future, but not to LIGHTS OUT.
Thursday nights have been revamped this broadcast year with the addition of TWO AND A HALF MEN from 8 to 10. An FX original comedy usually follows, this month it was ARCHER again. Compared to last year when movies were running, men 18-49 ratings are up 22% for the night, but compared to last month numbers are off by 19%. The culprit for the decline is TWO AND A HALF MEN. The program has been riding a high on Charlie Sheen's public mishaps, but audiences cooled off this month. Compared to March, the average program rating was down 27% for MEN, and up 30% for ARCHER. ARCHER has been renewed.
Movies were the other programming element in play at FX. FX classifies its movies into four categories: men; women; kids & family and blockbusters. Sunday nights this month fell into the "men" quadrant, and movies such as Hancock, Max Payne and Role Model helped boost Sundays to the best-rated night of the week.
CABLEU NEED TO KNOW:
The theme of the month for FX is companion programming. FX has been able to maximize audience flow from its movies to its original dramas, from its sitcoms to its original comedies, and from big screen releases of sequels to the small screen of FX. It sounds simple, but FX is one of the few networks to make it work this month.
FX continues to push forward, developing new series, exploring new genres and always pushing the envelope. Live sports coverage is returning to the network with college football and soccer deals in place. Original dramas and comedies continue to find new niches. Latenight has been floated as a possibility and off-net acquisitions are now welcomed to primetime.