OCTOBER 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. 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 original 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.
This September, FX added TWO AND A HALF MEN to the primetime line-up; the first time an acquired off-net comedy has regularly run in primetime in a few years (THAT "70s SHOW was once a Friday night staple). The program is not run as a strip, but is primarily used in two-hour blocks 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).
OCTOBER 2010 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / October 2010 vs. October 2009 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
October 2010: The FX line-up this fall is one of the most robust in the network's history. In recent years primetime programming has been dominated by edgy theatricals with one or two gritty signature original dramas thrown in. This month the line-up runs the gamut. Movies still dominate, but they are only two-thirds of the schedule. There were four originals running - two dramas and two comedies. And off-CBS TWO AND A HALF MEN moved onto FX and into primetime. With 41 telecasts this October, it was one of the strongest audience drivers.
With all that effort it is disappointing to see the ratings fall. Compared to last year when just SONS, SUNNY and movies were running, bottom-line adult 18-49 ratings dropped 20%, with losses greater among men than women. Men 18-49 took double digit declines every night of the week. Women didn't drop as much, and the audience got older, both of which can be attributed to TWO AND A HALF MEN.
SONS OF ANARCHY, in its third season, was the best rated program by a wide margin. Not only was it head and shoulders above all the other programs, household ratings were more than double the network average and almost four times higher than the men 18-49 average. Compared to September's premiere month performance, it lost just 5% of its demo audience. Now here comes the but. But, it lost significant audience from last year, and it was hardest hit at its core. Men 18-49 ratings were down a full 30% vs. October 2009.
On Wednesdays, TERRIERS was not helping. Wednesday nights were down between 40% and 50% across the board vs. both last year and last month. TERRIERS lost an additional 50% vs. last month (when it dropped 50% of its audience vs. the premiere telecast), and it sits alone at the bottom of the program rankers on every demo, with a wide margin between it and the second-to-last place finisher. Word of a renewal is not expected. TERRIERS was positioned as a "middle-of-the-road" program, with ad sales execs comparing it to USA fare, saying FX was ready to move more mainstream. Apparently not.
Thursday night brought comedy to the line-up, a growing genre on primetime this year in both broadcast and cable. TWO AND A HALF MEN starts out the night with a two-hour block. As we noted above, the off-net sitcom brought higher ratings, particularly households and older demos. The nights it has a significant on-air presence (Thursdays and Saturdays) have the oldest audiences, with an average audience age over 40 on both nights. SUNNY comes on at 10PM, and pulls in the second-best men 18-49 ratings, behind SONS. A demo shift occurred for the program vs. last year. Its core audience is still young men, but it lost 24% of those ratings. Household audience was off by just 7% and men 25-54 ratings were actually up 5%. And because losses among women weren't as great as they were among men, the program now has a stronger female skew. Next up on Thursdays was THE LEAGUE, back for its second season. Again, losses vs. last year were severe. The program wasn't on last October, so we drew comparisons to November 2009. Household and women 18-49 ratings were down 21% while core men 18-49 were down 35%. The program retains its strong men 18-49 skew - so while household ratings put it second to last in the rankers, it is the third best-rated FX offering of the month among men 18-49, directly behind SUNNY and SONS.
Movies also took declines vs. both last year and last month. The selected titles had a stronger female appeal this month, with fare such as Halloween H2O, Baby Mama and 27 Dresses helping to bring up the Friday through Sunday numbers among women.
CABLEU NEED TO KNOW:
FX is back in full force this fall, with more non-theatrical programming in primetime than....ever? Despite all the new efforts and record-setting ratings, bottom-line audience is actually down from last year. But FX is all about image. Despite the fact that the vast majority of its programming is acquired theatricals, it is branded as an edgy producer of original programming. And despite the fact that it is a cable network, it prefers comparisons to broadcast, therefore launching its biggest and best right in the middle of the broadcast network's biggest season.
The end result might be slightly smaller audiences, but definitely more cachet.
Comedy is the new growth area at FX, with a lot of success under its belt from the 09/10 season. Each of its comedies from the past 12 months - LOUIE, THE LEAGUE, and ARCHER were picked up for a second season. The network is on record that they plan to carry six to eight comedies in the future, and that a dozen originals in total would be their max. That means comedies will be at least half of the originals line-up.
What are they looking for in comedy? "What we want to do with comedies is very much what we did with dramas," said John Landgraf, FX President. "Put shows on the air that are really smart, really edgy and distinctive." Good writing that helps showcase the star of the program is also key to the originals brand on FX.