NOVEMBER 2009 PRIMETIME SCHEDULE:
Lately, we have seen movies represent nearly 100% of the primetime fare, but FX has started to bring on more original series this Fall. Originals tend to run mid-week, when they are running - Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, and always at 10PM for content reasons. This month we get drama on Tuesdays with SONS OF ANARCHY and on Wednesdays with NIP/TUCK. Thursdays bring some dark comedy with IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA and raunchy comedy with THE LEAGUE. Bigger movie titles are usually scheduled as lead-ins for high-profile originals.
FX was never a network to run multiple encores of its series, a la BRAVO, and it has stopped running encores on Sunday nights, so each program gets just one primetime run. However, movie titles tend to run multiple times throughout the month and successful titles have become monthly staples (i.e. Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Day After Tomorrow).
NOVEMBER 2009 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / November 2009 vs. November 2008 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
November 2009 marks another strong month for FX. Although bottom-line increases were marginal, there were plenty of strong success stories. Returning series SONS OF ANARCHY and IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA continued their 2009 rallies, while new series THE LEAGUE earned young male comps typically pulled only by sporting events.
Monday nights were all movies again, but something new was happening this month. With all the top-rated testosterone-themed movies reserved for SONS and SUNNY lead-ins, Mondays switched to a lot of female skewing titles. With 13 Going on 30 leading the way, Monday night lost under 10% of its male viewers vs. last month and last year, but gained more than 20% better women 18-49 ratings. When the numbers were tallied at the end of the month, Monday nights had a decided female skew. The same thing happened, to a slightly lesser degree, on Friday nights.
Tuesdays are driving FX right now. Ratings are well ahead of all other nights and about one-third better than last year. SONS OF ANARCHY is the dominant force and ratings grabber on the net, up over 40% vs. last November's season one. FX has acquired a vast inventory of theatricals that are natural lead-ins for the outlaw motorcycle gang drama.
On Wednesdays, female skewing NIP/TUCK is the 10PM original. For some reason, FX scheduled male-skewing movies as lead-ins (The Departed, The Girl Next Door). NIP/TUCK ratings plummeted 30% from the October premiere month. Still, it is among the stronger performers on the network, ranking second among households and women.
On Thursdays, IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA and THE LEAGUE set the pace. They pull in extraordinarily high men 18-49 comps. THE LEAGUE is actually ranked sixth on households, yet second on men 18-49. SUNNY seems to have found a perfect companion; its men 18-49 numbers are up 12% vs. last month and 43% vs. last year.
The Saturday / Sunday all-movie line-up had mixed ratings this month. Even with four originals on the air, FX has not gone back to running encores on Sunday nights. Dominant titles of the month included Fantastic Four, its sequel Fantastic Four Rise of the Silver Surfer, and Ghost Rider.
After nearly half a year with only one original on the air, the old FX is finally back, and viewers are acting like the network never left them. SONS OF ANARCHY, IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA and THE LEAGUE are all solid, with killer demos. NIP/TUCK seems to be waning, but has a big series ender coming in first quarter. In fact, there's a lot coming to FX in the first half of 2010. Our only question is, what has the network been waiting for?
CABLEU NEED TO KNOW:
The FX reputation was built on edgy original drama series with star power such as RESCUE ME, NIP/TUCK and SONS OF ANARCHY. Quirky comedies such as IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA are also an FX trademark. The network has succeeded at branding itself as the "HBO of ad-supported cable." They pride themselves on pushing the boundaries of all popular TV genres.
FX has a long development slate of dark, gritty dramas, yet the network has been slow to pull the trigger on launching new series. Movie acquisitions were far more prevalent for most of 2009 than program launches, dominating over 95% of the network's primetime line-up. The original programming that does make it to the air has the look and feel of theatricals.
In a July 2009 Broadcasting & Cable interview, FX President John Landgraf admitted the network has been focused on building a warchest of movies and how it is a "slow, incremental process." He stated that television viewers "are now developing muscle memory for the fact that FX is a place to go for movies," however, he also promised the focus on originals would return, going on record with a goal of "maintaining a mix of six original drama series on the air during any given year (four established players, two more experimental) and ultimately ramp up to four comedies. " So far, three comedies (THE LEAGUE, ARCHER and LOUIE) and three dramas (JUSTIFIED LIGHTS OUT and TERRIERS) have been picked up. With these greenlights, FX has given series orders to all six of the pilots it produced this year for 2010 debuts.
So what does a program need to be an FX program? In a Broadcasting & Cable interview, John Landgraf says, "Audacity is a word we use a lot to describe our brand. He adds that FX also has a propensity for "alpha" characters, and the network aims to ride the balance between high-quality, broad entertainment and literary fare. I don't think you'll ever see an FX show on the air that's not about something; about a question worth examining on a literary level over a sustained number of years."
The New York Times, in a 12/6/09 article, said "FX prefers to paint the masculine condition in macho extremes, where comedy is "The League," a raunchy series about suburban men obsessed with fantasy football, and drama is "Sons of Anarchy," about an outlaw motorcycle gang in Southern California. FX serves up portraits of men as they wish to be seen." Well that portrait certainly seems to be working. FX has honed the formula, and is ready to bring it in 2010.