FX casts a wider net

Lineup adds proven off-nets, experiments with originals, repurposes Fox shows

FX doesn't want to behave like today's general-entertainment networks. While other cable nets seek specialized but broad niches, FX is playing to a wider demographic, adding proven off-nets and experimenting with original series and repurposed shows from News Corp. sister Fox.

Beginning Sept. 24, FX adds Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ally McBeal
and The Practice
(all Twentieth Century Fox Television shows) to its prime time lineup. In late fall, the network gets second-window rights to upcoming Fox series 24
and Nathan's Choice. And it has ordered two of its own original series (with a third on the way) for 2002.

"To really grow your brand, you need a mix of [off-nets and originals]," says Initiative Media buyer Tim Spengler. "This moves them up the food chain of cable networks."

FX's competitors are narrowing their focus. TNT has refashioned itself the drama net, TBS is a comedy destination, and TNN is sharpening a pop image. Since losing the WWF to TNN, USA is focusing on 25- to 54-year-olds.

FX President Peter Liguori says his net is going for viewers who want HBO-like originality missing on basic cable. "We're programming for people who want quality and creativity that breaks through the clutter."

One of the originals, cop drama Rampart, stirred up controversy when it was announced two weeks ago because of its association with
the scandal in which Los Angeles' Rampart district police were accused of framing suspects and planting evidence.

Liguori contends that Rampart, slated for spring 2002, is a dramatization "inspired by the issues that Rampart raised," not the specific incidents.

FX is offering Baywatch
spoof Son of a Beach
for a third season and has ordered 13 episodes of dark comedy Bad News, Mr. Swanson
for 2002. FX plans to air its originals at 10 p.m., after the off-nets.

The network needs the off-nets to drive ratings growth. Prime time averages have hovered around 0.7 for the past year, according to Nielsen numbers. Buyers say they'll wait from three weeks to two quarters to see results.

Liguori cites the 2001 upfront as proof of his network's potential. He says that, while other networks were off 20%, FX took in 50% to 60% more in sales commitments than the year before.

Media buyers say they are buying more time on FX than in the past.

"They used to be more of a write-off in buyers' and clients' minds," says Optimedia's Kris Magel. "Now that numbers are starting to show and adding good programming, they are more of a consideration."

On Sept. 10, Time Warner added FX to its New York City system, putting "the cherry on the sundae of the growth story," says Liguori.

FX is projected to reach 71.4 million households in September (including 1.2 million new Time Warner subs), adding 17 million subs since last September.

When the network launched in 1994, it programmed to an older female audience. To shift the balance, in the late 1990s, the net loaded up on male-skewing shows like The X-Files, NYPD Blue
and Tough Man.

Buffy, Ally
and The Practice
should tip FX toward a young, gender-balanced demo in prime time.