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FX wields a powerful Shield

Original-drama experiment draws strong ratings, withstands advertiser exodus 9/29/2002 08:00:00 PM Eastern

When Michael Chiklis started lifting weights to get in shape for his starring role in The Shield, he never imagined that, come September, he'd be lifting an Emmy for Best Actor. Probably, neither did the cable network that airs it, FX.

Both The Shield, the dark and often dirty cop drama, and FX had trouble getting respect. It's not that FX didn't have high hopes for the show, putting up more than $1 million per episode, but it was the channel's first original-drama experiment. For the now-chiseled Chiklis, formerly the teddy-bearish star of police drama The Commish
and sitcom Daddio
on broadcast nets, playing a buff bad guy and doing it on cable were new experiences.

"The Emmy speaks to Michael's talent and fortitude," said FX President Peter Liguori. "He took a risk; he got himself into shape and into character."

Chiklis's award—for which he beat more-established actors, The West Wing's Martin Sheen and 24's Kiefer Sutherland, as well as upstart Six Feet Under's Michael C. Hall and Peter Krause—is also creating a much appreciated positive buzz for FX. Actors, writers and producers who might have previously eschewed basic cable for HBO or broadcast have surely taken notice.

Already, FX can boast some big-name talent at work on future projects. It is developing a comedy pilot produced by Paul Reiser, and actor John Corbett (Sex and the City, My Big Fat Greek Wedding) stars in upcoming dark comedy Lucky.

"The network is clearly committed to growing and investing in the programming and marketing," said Liguori.

FX showed that marketing muscle in the Emmy process, putting tens of thousands of dollars behind Chiklis. PR firm Rogers & Cowan helped orchestrate the campaign, bombarding Emmy voters with Chiklis mailings and advertisements and sending out a glossy black box (which lit up with the message "Television in a New Light") filled with episodes of The Shield.

"TNT, A&E, Lifetime do this for their shows," said Richard Licata, the agency's executive VP of television. "Cable is always trying harder to get recognition."

The quality of The Shield
has rarely been disparaged. Its racy content, however, certainly has. Frequent doses of sexual content, explicit language and violence scared away about 20 advertisers during the first season. The exodus was fueled, in part, by a vocal campaign by the conservative Parent's Television Council.

"There are an awful lot of advertisers who won't feel comfortable with that show even if the lead actor won an Emmy award," said Chris Geraci, director, national TV for media buyer OMD USA.

But advertisers that can handle the content, such as youth-oriented restaurant and beverage companies and movie studios, are buying into a hit. The Shield's ratings during its 13-episode run last spring were impressive. After debuting to a stellar 4.1 in March, it averaged a 2.8 rating. "The Emmy will only further fuel appetite for the show," Liguori predicted.

The Shield
goes back into production in October, with new episodes arriving in January.

Chiklis is under contract, and the network says the relationship is solid. As for any Emmy bonus for his star, Liguori said, "I don't think, in any of our wildest dreams, we would have had that conversation."

September
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