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 FX Network: There is No Box

FX Network is a top cable network. FX channel provides highly popular original series and motion pictures. 

Industrial Analysis

History

       FX Network is a basic cable channel that was founded in 1994 by its immediate parent Fox Entertainment Group, which is owned by News Corporation.
FX, originally named fX, started off as a “live programming, broadcast” from a New York loft. “TV Made Fresh Daily” was one of fX slogans when it first aired. But without much success with live programming,[1] FX took different directions.
        In 1998, Peter Liguori joined the FX Networks was appointed President and CEO of FX Networks. During his five-year period, FX went from reaching 39 million homes to reaching 84 million homes, becoming a “top-five basic cable network”, and reaching the highest ratings and revenue.[2] Under Peter Liguori’s guidance shows like “The Shield,” “Nip/Tuck,” and “Rescue Me” turned into top shows. In 2005, John Landgraf was appointed the president and general manager of FX Networks.[3] FX is currently a “Top 5 network”, reaching over 90 million US homes, providing hit original series and motion pictures.[4] FX networks currently gained the basic cable rights of Avatar and The Social Network.[5] In 2007, FX Networks launched its first big marketing campaign: “There is no Box.” Mr. Landgraf said that FX wanted to “elevate nonconformity to an aspirational experience.” The main idea was to show how FX goes against original TV genres. The logo can still be seen on the official FX website and on TV. [6]
Executives
-President and General Manager: John Landgraf
-Executive-Vice President Marketing and Promotion: Stephanie Gibbons
-EVP Original Programming: Nick Grad

Programming

FX aspires to be a channel in the vein of HBO and Shotime[7] in that they have edgy programming that pushes the boundaries of basic cable television[8]. Series tend to push boundaries with their language and subject matter. For example, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia deals with drugs, the homeless, racism, and politics among other topics. The Shield deals with corrupt cops, Rescue Me revolves around a group of misogynistic fire fighters, and Nip/Tuck takes place in the in the seedy underbelly of plastic surgery. Also similar to the premium cable of HBO and Shotime is that instead of relying heavily on off-network re-runs, FX fills their schedule with recent movies to which they have first-run rights[9].

FX’s most successful and long-running programs to date have been It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Rescue Me, Sons of Anarchy, The Shield, and Nip/Tuck. The Shield and Nip/Tuck both ended in their sixth season after having runs filled with golden globe and emmy nominations. Rescue Me ended its sixth season this past summer. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is currently in its sixth season and Sons of Anarchy is currently in its third season.[10]

Signature Programming

FX, again like HBO and Shotime, aims for a blend of comedic and dramatic shows dealing with a darker subject matter[11]. Signature programming includes the successful series listed above and Terriers, The League, Louie, Archer, and Justified. Currently, FX’s original series are trending towards the comedic with five of their eight series being firmly trenched in the comedy genre. Terriers blends comedy with the detective genre, following two unlicensed private detectives. Rescue Me, one of FX’s dramas, blends drama with dark comedy. FX also seems to be taking an interest in sports-themed shows with it’s current showThe League which follows a groups of friends in a fantasy-football league and it’s upcoming show, Light’s Out which follows a former boxing champion and his struggles in life.[12]

Target Audience

FX's target audience is the coveted 18-49 range[13].  Their promotional techniques and show's subject matter can reflect this.  FX features a late-night programming block called Fully Baked. Fully Baked runs Louie, Archer, and its other original comedy series. This is seems to be an appeal to a young, hip audience who smokes pot. The programming block seems to say, Up late? High? Why not watch some premium FX comedy? It’s just what you need when you’re baked[14].  Also, shows on FX can tend to involve racy and sexual topics which would appeal to the younger audience FX wants.  FX also found the blockbuster films it aired attracted their desired target audience[15].

Feature Films

New hits include "Transformers 2," "Spider-Man 3," "Live Free or Die Hard," "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" and "Hellboy II"; family hits"Madagascar 2" and "Madagascar 3," "Monsters vs. Aliens," "Kung Fu Panda," "Horton Hears a Who" and "Shrek 4"; Oscar nominees "There Will Be Blood," "Changeling," "The Wrestler" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"; upcoming releases such as "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3," "2012," "Iron Man 2," "Captain America," "Thor" and "The Avengers"; and "Blockbuster" hits: "Tropic Thunder," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," "Iron Man," "27 Dresses," "Taken," "21," "Vantage Point," "Marley & Me," "Wanted," "Eagle Eye," "Beowulf," "Superbad," "Bride Wars," "Baby Mama," "Hancock," "Step Brothers," "Pineapple Express," "Jumper," "Cloverfield," "What Happens in Vegas," "The Incredible Hulk," "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" and more.[16]

Scheduling and Promotional Techniques

FX only has a few apparent scheduling techniques. In 2009, The League premiered followingIt’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on Thursday nights[17]. This strategy follows in 2010 in an effort to retain It’s Always Sunny’s audience for The League. The fact that they placed the shows on Thursday may be an effort to piggy-back off of the comedic programming that runs on NBC every Thursday from 8-10 pm. Viewers of the comedies on NBC may find it easy to continue their night of comedy for another hour by simply changing the channel to FX.

FX uses their wide range of movies and off-network re-runs to lead into their original programming. Currently, FX uses Two and a Half Men to lead into their original comedy series. FX began scheduling movies more heavily than off-network re-runs when ratings were poor for off-network re-runs and when it was discovered that movies pull in a younger audience than the re-runs. By utilizing the movies, FX attracts more of the 18-49 target audience and is able to slip in promos for their original programming through the film[18].

FX’s promotional strategies expand to clips and episodes available for viewing on their website as well as a presence on youtube, myspace, and facebook[19]. They have also performed public stunts such as holding a live rendition of the musical “The Nightman Cometh” fromIt’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia[20].

Production, Distribution, Transmission

     The FX Network has a hand in the production of all their shows through either the FX Production Company or Fox 21. These are two production studios owned and operated by Fox which are directly involved with the production of all their shows. The level of involvement and preparation that each show requires, however, varies greatly.
     For example,It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia was created by Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton and Charlie Day with only a handheld video camera and a $200.00 budget.[21] The actors are the creators and they are responsible for all creativity. Despite such inconspicuous conception, it has become wildly successful, and rules the primetime 10pm spot on FX’s Thursday night lineup.
In contrast to Sunny’s streamlined production, it takes one month to create an episode of Archer. Floyd County Productions in Atlanta Georgia is responsible for creating concept sketches, while Trinity Animation in Kansas receives these sketches and translates them into three dimensional images. Then animators and illustrators storyboard the entire episode and apply the voices of the actors, recorded in Hollywood. The actors are removed from the experience beyond their voice recording (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZdJX1jDcYI).
     FX partners with production companies beyond those owned by Fox. To produce It’s Always Sunny FX collaborates with Bluebush Productions, 3 Art Entertainment, RCH, and Sunny Television Productions.[22] RCH and Sunny Television Productions deal solely with It’s Always Sunny. Bluebush Productions works exclusively with FX shows and it has helped shepherd Damages and 30 Days to the air as well. 3 Art Entertainment, on the other hand, has dabbled in many projects. They are responsible for such theatrical hits as Girl, Interrupted, Down to Earth and Constantine. They have also produced dozens of episodes of King of the Hill. Compare this to the production company Actual Reality, responsible for FX’s show 30 Days. They have a much less conspicuous resume. Their most notable achievement is their eleven episode stint with Greatest American Dog. 30 Days also uses a production company called Warrior Poets. Initially, Warrior Poets was created to produce 30 Days in 2005 but they have since produced 7 other documentaries without commercial success.[23] Their 2007 documentary, What Would Jesus Buy? only grossed one hundred and ninety six thousand dollars and used a two million dollar budget.[24]
      The FX channel is carried in some ninety six million homes.[25] FX transmits shows throughout the United States, UK (Bravo Television, Fiver), Japan (WOWOW), Hungary (Viasat 3, Comedy Central), Norway (FEM), Estonia (TV3), Romania (AXN), Greece, Belgium, Germany (Sony Pictures), Finland, Canada (CanWest), Argentina (LK-TEL) and Italy. They broadcast on the internet as well through the News Corporation’s merger with Comcast - check for free episodes on either fxnetworks.com or hulu.com.[26] FX may lose some fourteen million viewers due to a dispute with Dish Network.[27] Fox is also threatening to pull their programming from Time Warner which could affect up to thirty million viewers in thirteen million households.[28] FX continues to reache a huge audience through cable/satellite/internet systems.[29] Even with such business disputes, FX reaches a huge audience and remains FOX’s premier channel for original programming.

Current Programs on FX

Malcolm in the Middle

The Bernie Mac Show

Two and a half men

Spin City

That 70’s Show

The Practice

Terriers

Lights Out (Premieres January 2011)

The League

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Sons of Anarchy

Louie

Archer

Justified

Rescue Me

30 days (Completed)

Nip/Tuck (Completed)

The Shield (Completed)


Textual Analysis

Justified

Form and Content

Justified is a procedural episodic serial. It follows U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens and the other marshals in Harlan County, Kentucky as they carry out justice. In the series, we are given a representation of the Marshals’ jobs and responsibilities. For example, in the second episode of Justified, Raylan must transport a prisoner, one of the US Marshals actual job duties. Most episodes focus on Raylan and the other marshals tracking down one criminal or a set of convicts that is almost completely resolved by the end of the episode. In the first episode, Raylan and the marshals take down a gang of neo-Nazis led by Boyd, an old friend of Raylan’s. At the end of the episode Raylan has shot, but not killed Boyd, closing the episode’s main storyline but leaving the conclusion of the arc of Raylan and Boyd’s relationship open to be explored in the next episode which it is. It would also seem that in addition to the runner of Boyd and Raylan’s relationship, Raylan’s relationship with his father is a runner that will initiate one of the ongoing plotlines of the show. In the first episode, it is hinted that Raylan has a complicated history with his father and in the second episode, Raylan encounters a convict who knew his father and their relationship is again touched upon.

Construction of Target Audience/ Cultural Meanings

As stated in our earlier report, FX’s target audience is the 18 to 49 range. The crime fighting content of Justified matches that of other shows like Memphis Bea't, Burn Notice, and Law and Order (imdb.com). Burn Notice had the highest ratings for the summer in the 18 to 49 and 18 to 35 ranges.[30] The similar content of Justified would draw the same coveted audience range. Justified’s premiere also drew 1.42 million men in the 18-49 range, FX’s highest rating in that range since the premiere of The Shield.[31] Justified's weekly averages 7.5 million viewers, of which 3.9 million are adults (18-49). The show was rated number one for a “new series,” within the demographic of men of ages 18-49.
Also, as stated in our earlier report, FX is trying to provide content similar to and in competition with HBO’s programming. One similarity these two networks have in common are the actors in HBO shows also appear in FX shows. For example, Kristen Bauer, who is a recurring character in True Blood, apears in the second episode of Justified. Also, HBO’s critically successful Deadwood has more than a few similarities to Justified. Not only do they both follow US law enforcement figures, but the main character of Justified is also in Deadwood. Timothy Olyphant stars as Raylan Givens in Justified and as sheriff Seth Bullock in Deadwood (who is also a former marshal).[32] Both shows also feature a hazy obedience of the law and a lot of gunfights. In the first episode of Justified, Raylan is transferred for his penchant for shooting on-sight and only shooting to kill, which the superiors in the Marshals’ office frown upon. Later, the marshals are caught in a massive gunfight in the middle of a town road. In Deadwood, the lawlessness is personified by the setting of the Wild West, where shootings and gunfights were a common occurrence.[33] The common actor and content is clearly a bid by FX for the same audience that HBO and Deadwood attracted while it aired on television.
Justified is also able to make a bid for the 18 to 49 range in its source material. Raylan Givens is a character created by the writer, Elmore Leonard. Leonard, who continues to put out novels in the present, has been published regularly since 1954.[34] Leonard also serves as an executive producer on the show.[35] His books have been read by all ages and there are certainly fans of his work that fall into the 18 to 49 range. A way FX is trying to appeal to a younger demographic is by making Justified modern. Unlike Deadwood that is set during the time of Manifest Destiny, Justified is set in the present. Therefore, the show plays hip-hop music during montages and Raylan, though dressed in a suite and cowboy hat, owns a Blackberry phone. Making Justidied more modern attracts a younger demographic.
Even though FX if mainly a channel viewed by many males, Justified tries to appeal to women. For example, Ava Crowder does not portray the stereotypical abused housewife. Even though her character is portrayed as very sexual, she stands up for herself against her abusive husband. Anther example is Rachel Brooks, who is an African American, female cop. She is part of Raylan’s cop group. In the show, she is portrayed as a tough, smart woman who doesn’t take orders from anyone, even her boss (as shown in a specific scene in the pilot). The show has very few female characters, but the ones who are in it appear as strong women that would appeal to a female demographic.

Brand Identity

FX’s current branding strategy is the “There is no box” campaign. The campaign aims to promote the common elements of anti-heroes and nonconformity present in all the original shows on the network.[36] Raylan Givens is clearly our protagonist and a good guy, but he’s got a set of morals that doesn’t quite fit in with those of the law. If Raylan pulls his gun, he means to kill and he shows no remorse about such things. Justified is also unusual for a television show in that it shows Raylan as having a kind and friendly, in some cases, relationship with the criminals he encounters. Also, as stated earlier, FX tries to compete with HBO in the edgy content of its programs, which Justified certainly has with its gunfights and neo-nazis. Rated TV-MA, Justified steps outside the box by including more profanity, sexual activity, and violence.[37] It is clear that FX tried to disregard “the box,” by making Justified edgier in content.

Production History

Justified is jointly produced by FX Productions, Nemo Films, Rooney McP Productions, Sony Productions and Timberman-Beverly Productions (imdb.com). Justified marks the first time any of the companies besides FX Productions has produced a work that aired on FX.[38] FX Productions also helps produce the FX programs Terriers, Archer, Lights Out, and Damages[39].

It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia

Form and Content

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a half hour, comedic episodic serial on FX. It follows Dennis, Dee, Charlie, and Mac, four friends around thirty years old who own a bar in Philadelphia. Dennis and Dee’s father, Frank, joins as a main character during the second season. The main characters of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are arguably the worst human beings on the planet. For example, Dennis develops an elaborate dating system called the D.E.N.N.I.S. system[40]. He tricks girls into depending on him so he can sleep with them, and then abandon them. The main characters never let principles stop them from inflicting abuse upon each other. For example, in one episode Frank sets his daughter on fire two times.

Most episode plots are self-contained and feature “the gang” encountering and unorthodoxly solving a problem without facing lasting repercussions. However, there have been two-part episodes in the series’ past featuring continuous plot lines. For instance, in “Mac and Charlie Die: Parts One and Two,” Mac and Charlie fake their own death and watch their friends grieve unconventionally for two episodes[41].


Aside from a couple of two part episodes, the long-term effects of the gang’s behavior on minor characters display the serial nature of the show. Several episodes feature a character named Cricket. In almost every episode something happens to him that permanently debilitates him. In the season two episode, “The Gang Exploits A Miracle”, Cricket is on the verge of becoming a priest, but Dee tricks him into thinking that she is in love with him. She exploits a crush Cricket has had on her since high school and he mistakes her manipulation for genuine affection, deciding to abandon the ministry for her. Dee promptly rejects him and her life continues unaltered[42]. We learn in season three, that Cricket has become a bum after renouncing the church[43]. In a later episode the gang falls in debt to the mob and begins to deal cocaine, enlisting the homeless Cricket to peddle drugs to hobos. Cricket becomes addicted to cocaine after the gang smears it on his gums[44]. In season five, the gang enlists Cricket as the heel in a benefit-wrestling match held for the troops. At the end of the episode, Frank accidentally slices open Cricket’s neck with a garbage can[45]. When Cricket reappears in season six, he is deeply bitter towards the gang about his time on the street and also about the injury Frank inflicted on his neck. He reappears talking in a deep, hoarse voice because of the cut[46]. The gang dispenses lasting misery but escapes problems unscathed.

Construction of Target Audience

Both South Park and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia portray edgy topics including, but not limited to abortion and racism in a similar satirical manner. For example, in the episode “Charlie Wants an Abortion” (season one, episode 2) Mac pretends to oppose abortion in order to seduce a catholic pro-life protester[47]. In the South Park episode “Woodland Critter Christmas” (season 8, episode 14) a group of mountain lion clubs perform an abortion on the character Stan’s anus[48]. These similar ludicrous scenarios appeal to an immature sense of humor. South Park’s satirical style and edgy content consistently pulls in high ratings in 18-49[49]. By offering similar content to South Park, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is able to attract a similar audience.

Cultural Meanings and Brand Identity

The cultural meanings behind It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia do not present themselves readily since the show covers such a wide range of issues without imparting any logical, realistically applicable version of right and wrong. The show consistently pokes fun at society through its characters’ severe moral turpitude. It offers many opinions on issues but nothing as definitive as the lessons taught by Maude or All in the Family. The show covers such hot-button issues as racism, jihads, abortion, drug addiction, poverty, the recession and gay marriage while presenting absurd interpretations of the issues. It definitely fits in with FX’s slogan: “There is no box.” The branding ad for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia says “there is no brotherly love”, “there is no smart one”, and “there is no moral to the story”[50]. In “The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention” the gang confronts Frank about his substance abuse while drinking wine, brandishing firearms and screaming at him through loud speakers. These episodes definitely fit in with the network’s aim to promote its show as nonconformist[51].

Production History

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is distributed by FX networks but is produced outside of FX productions[52]. It is produced by Bluebush Productions, 3 Art Entertainment, RCH, and Sunny Television Productions. Bluebush has helped produce other FX programs like Damages and 30 Days[53]. 3 Art Entertainment has not helped produce any other FX programs. RCH and Sunny Television Productions have only produced It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia[54].

Scheduling

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia airs at 10 p.m on Thursday nights. The lead in to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is Two and a Half Men. This does not mesh with FX’s claim that leading into shows with movies often helps boost the audience for their originals but FX president John Landgraf believes “It will be younger and very compatible with the types of FX original programs that we have”[55]. As mentioned in our earlier in our industrial analysis report, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia follows NBC’s comedy block that airs from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. NBC’s comedy block features the popular programs Community, 30 Rock, andThe Office. The scheduling of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelpha directly after the of the comedy block might be a ploy to capture some of NBC’s comedy-viewing audience once its programming ends.

References

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  14. Although no examples of the advertising for "Fully Baked" were available in print or on the web, the ads usually air during It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia on thursdays at 10 P.M.
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