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 FX Network: There is No Box

FX Network is an extremely popular cable channel. FX broadcasts motion pictures as well as original series. 

Industrial Analysis

History

       FX Network is a basic cable channel founded in 1994 by Fox Entertainment Group, a company owned and operated by News Corporation.
Originally named fX, the channel started with the slogan "TV Made Fresh Daily" and offered “live programming" broadcast from New York.  After little success with live programming,[1] fX changed to FX and took different approach to reaching audiences.
        In 1998, Peter Liguori became President and CEO of FX Networks. During his five-year period, FX expanded their reach from 39 million homes to 84 millionand achieved their highest ratings and revenue, becoming a “top-five basic cable network."[2] Under Liguori’s guidance shows like “The Shield,” “Nip/Tuck,” and “Rescue Me” - which target wide age ranges among male audiences - became wildly popular.

In 2005, John Landgraf became president and general manager of FX Networks.[3] Reaching over 90 million US homes and providing hit original series,[4] FX networks has maintained their status as a "top 5 network" and also acquired the basic cable rights to popular movies such as Avatar and The Social Network.[5] In 2007, FX Networks launched a marketing campaign behind the slogan, “There is no Box.” Mr. Landgraf said that FX wanted to “elevate nonconformity to an aspirational experience.” He wanted to showcase how FX differs from generic TV genres by specifically appealing to stereotypically masculine audiences. 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 frequently competes with channels like HBO and Shotime for audiences and offers edgy programming with controversial subject matter rarely found on basic cable television. For example, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia deals with drugs, homelessness, racism, and gay marriage 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 underworld of corrupt plastic surgeons. Series tend to push boundaries with colorful language as well. Also similar to HBO and Shotime, FX fills their schedule with recent movies to which they have first-run rights instead of relying on re-runs to attract viewers.

Signature Programming 

FX has had many successful programs run for very long stretches.The Shield, Rescue Me, andNip/Tuck all ended after six seasons of awards and accolades, including multiple Emmys and Golden Globes. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia just entered its sixth season and Sons of Anarchy is currently in its third. A slew of newer shows - Justified, Archer, and The League - are all due for a second season while Terriers recently finished its first. Lights Out, their newest original, will start in January.

FX offers a blend of comedic and dramatic shows dealing with dark subject matter. Currently, FX’s original series trend towards the comedic and five of their eight series firmly stand in the comedic genre. Terriers blends comedy with the mystery genre, following two unlicensed private detectives. Rescue Me blends drama with dark comedy. FX also displayed an interest in sports-themed shows with the comedyThe League, depicting a group of friends competing over a fantasy-football league.  Upcoming show Light’s Out follows a former boxing champion through his struggles in life.


Target Audience

FX's covets men in the 18-49 age range as their target audience . Their promotional techniques and the subject matter in their shows appeal directly to this demographic. FX features a late-night programming block called Fully Baked. It runs Louie, Archer, and other original comedy series. The vulgar humor intertwines pop culture references, drugs and sexual innuendos that appeal to an immature, hip audience. As the title implies, the humor especially suits those who smoke pot. The Fully Baked programming block seems to say, "Up late? High? Why not watch some FX comedy? It’s just what you need when you’re baked". FX advertises Coors Light, a popular beer for inexperienced and underage drinkers, as well as Call of Duty, an obsession of male youth culture. FX also found airing blockbuster films attracts their desired target audience.


Feature Films

FX appeals to many age demographics by showing many different movies. They broadcast mostly action flicks, which appeal predominantly to men, but supply films for every age group and level of maturity.


FX airs family movies which appeal to small children with middle aged parents who want to watch movies with their children. These movies are high profile enough to attract the entire family. FX has box office hits such as Madagascar 2 and Madagascar 3Monsters vs. Aliens, Kung Fu Panda, Horton Hears a Who and Shrek 4.
FX also shows many comic book movies whose action based premises appeal to slightly older children but whose big budgets can entertain adults as well. These include Transformers 2, Spider-Man 3, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver SurferHellboy II, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Captain America, Thor and The Avengers.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, 2012, and Live Free or Die Hard, Taken, Beowulf, Jumper, Cloverfield, Hancock, Eagle Eye, Wanted, 21, and Vantage Point provide a more mature counterpart to supplement the child-oriented, action-packed comic book films.

For young adults and adults looking to watch critically acclaimed movies, FX broadcasts Oscar winners and nominees such as "There Will Be Blood, Changeling, The Wrestler, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

FX has a score of comedies with box office success as well: Tropic Thunder, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad, Step Brothers, Pineapple Express, What Happens in Vegas, You Don't Mess With the Zohan, and more. These shows appeal to audiences with content similar to Fully Baked and FX's other comedy series. Immature “frat pack” humor appeals strongly to adolescent audiences. Notice, only What Happens in Vegas has a strong female lead.

The channel also has movies such as 27 Dresses, Bride Wars, Baby Mama, and Marley & Me. The strong female leads in these movies along with the romantic, humorous plots appeal to female audiences of many ages.

Scheduling and Promotional Techniques

FX uses a few apparent scheduling techniques. In 2009, The League premiered following It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on Thursday nights[7]. In an effort to get Sunny's audience to watch The League, whose protagonists and comedic banter closely resemble It's Always Sunny, FX continued this lead-in technique throughout 2010. The fact that they placed the shows on Thursday clearly indicates their effort to capitalize on the pre-existing comedic programming aired by NBC every Thursday from 8-10 pm. Audiences in the mood for humor find it desirable to continue their night of comedic relief by simply changing the channel to FX.

FX uses their wide range of off-network re-runs and movies which specifically appeal to young audiences as lead-ins to their original programming. Currently, FX uses Two and a Half Men to lead-in to their original comedy series. When ratings began dropping for such off-network re-runs, FX began scheduling movies more heavily. By utilizing movies, FX attracts more of the 18-49 target audience and slips in promotions for their original programming throughout the film[8].

FX’s promotional strategies offer clips and episodes available for viewing on their website. They also have a presence on Youtube, Myspace, and Facebook[9]. FX's website provides multiple opportunities for fans to engage with their favorite shows and they offer episodes on Hulu.  Promotion of the channel's brand "There Is No Box" works on two levels.  While the slogan does say that FX does not follow conformity, it subtly references gender as well. "There Is No Box" can also be interpreted as using "box" as modern slang for "vagina." Mac fromIts Always Sunny summed up the channel's hermeneutic towards marketing to women when he said, "But the thing is, dude. I hate women. They just slow down action movies"[10]. Rescue Me has similarly misogynistic overtones. The channel predominantly appeals to almost every age group of men without concern over their female viewers.  

FX has also performed public stunts such as creating a live rendition of the musical “The Nightman Cometh” from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia[11].

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 two production studios are owned and operated by Fox. The parent company is directly involved with the production of all their shows but the level of involvement and preparation that each show solicits varies greatly.

Production

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.[12] The actors are the creators and they account for all the creativity. Despite such an inconspicuous conception, the show 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 Studios in Kansas receives these sketches and translates them into three dimensional images. Animators and illustrators storyboard the entire episode and apply the voices of actors recorded in Hollywood. The actors are removed from the creative 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.[13] 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.[14] Their 2007 documentary, What Would Jesus Buy? only grossed one hundred and ninety six thousand dollars but used a two million dollar budget.[15]

Distribution & Transmission

The FX channel is carried to some 96 million homes.[16] 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 since the News Corporation’s merger with Comcast - check for free episodes on either fxnetworks.com or hulu.com.[17]

FX may lose some 14 million viewers due to a dispute with Dish Network.[18] Fox is also threatening to pull their programming from Time Warner which could affect up to 30 million viewers in 13 million households.[19] Even with such business disputes, FX continues to reach a huge audience through cable / satellite / internet systems.[20] 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. Protagonist U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens enforces justice in Harlan, Kentucky as he struggles to fulfill his professional responsibilities. For example, in the second episode of Justified, Raylan transports a prisoner, an actual duty for US Marshals. Most episodes focus on Raylan tracking down one criminal or a set of convicts and the conflict resolves completely by the end almost every time. In the first episode Raylan and his marshals take down a gang of neo-Nazis led by one of Raylan’s childhood friends, Boyd. At the end of the episode Raylan captures but does not kill Boyd, closing the episode’s main storyline without concluding the arc of Raylan and Boyd’s relationship. The show explores their dynamic in later episodes as well. In addition to this runner, Raylan’s relationship with his father consistently initiates plotlines throughout the show. In the first episode, Raylan hints at a complicated history with his father and in the second episode, Raylan encounters a convict who knew his father, touching upon their relationship once again.

Construction of Target Audience/ Cultural Meanings

As stated earlier, FX’s target audience is the 18 to 49 range. The crime fighting content of Justified matches that of other shows like Memphis Beat, Burn Notice, and Law andOrder[21].  Burn Notice had the highest ratings over the summer in this category[22].
The similar content of Justified draws the same coveted audience range. 1.42 million men in the 18-49 range watched Justified’s premiere, FX’s highest rating in that range since the premiere of The Shield[23].  Justified's averages 7.5 million viewers weekly, of which 3.9 million are adults (18-49). The show captured the highest ratings for a “new series,” within the demographic of men of ages 18-49[24]. 



As stated in our earlier report, FX tries to appeal to the same audience that HBO does and uses similar techniques. These two networks even share actors. For example, Kristen Bauer, who plays a recurring character in True Blood, appears in the second episode of Justified. Also, HBO’s critically successful Deadwood bears many similarities to Justified. Not only do they both follow US law enforcement figures, but Timothy Olyphant stars as the main character of both Justified and Deadwood[25]. Both shows also feature a tenuous definition of justice and a lot of gunfights. In the first episode of Justified, Raylan is transferred because of his wild penchant for shooting criminals on-sight with the intent to kill. His superiors in the Marshals’ office frown upon his unusual antics. The pilot episode also includes a massive gunfight in the middle of a town road between marshals and fugitives.  Deadwood, takes place in the Wild West, where similar gunfights occur frequently[26]. The common protagonist and content clearly shows FX aiming for the same audience that Deadwood attracted. 



Justified also uses its source material to expand their target audiece. Novelist Elmore Leonard created Raylan Givens. Leonard, who continues to put out novels, has been published regularly since 1954[27]. Leonard also serves as an executive producer on the show[28]. Fans of his work certainly fall into the 18 to 49 range. 


Unlike Deadwood which occurs during Manifest Destiny, Justified takes place in the present, appealing to the culture of younger audiences. The show plays hip-hop music during montages and although Raylan dresses in a suit and a rustic cowboy hat, he owns a Blackberry phone. Making Justified more modern attracts younger demographics. 
Even though many males view FX, Justified offers strong female characters. For example, Ava Crowder does not portray the stereotypical abused housewife. Even though she plays her character with overt sexuality, she stands up against her abusive husband. Another example is Rachel Brooks, an African American, female cop and an integral part of Raylan’s team. In the show, Rachel doesn’t take orders from anyone, even her boss (as shown in the pilot). The show has very few female characters, but the ones who are in it appear as strong women in hopes to appeal to a female demographic interested in action but not misogyny.

Brand Identity

FX’s currently uses the “There Is No Box” slogan. Their publicity campaign aims to promote the nonconformist elements of protagonist anti-heros commonly used in their original shows[29]. They use this tactic to base shows on socially unacceptable characters. Raylan Givens, the likable protagonist, clearly has a moral compass that doesn’t align with his boss or mainstream society. If Raylan pulls his gun, he means to kill and he shows no remorse, a very masculine quality and this character flaw plagues his career.  Also to keep up with HBO which has fewer restrictions on content, FX tries to give its programs an edge. Justified earns a TV-MA rating with gunfights and neo-nazis. Justified steps outside the box by including unconventionally gratuitous profanity, sex, and violence[30].  The prosecuted masculinity of Raylan fits in with the gendered branding of the "There Is No Box" campaign above.

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.[31] FX Productions also helps produce the FX programs Terriers, Archer, Lights Out, and Damages[32].

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, all 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, six-point dating plan called the D.E.N.N.I.S. system[33]. 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 experiencing 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[34].


Aside from a couple of two part episodes, minor characters display the serial nature of the show. Several episodes feature a character named Cricket. In almost every episode something happens to him, permanently debilitating 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[35] while Cricket turns into a bum. In a later episode the gang falls in debt to the mob and begins to deal cocaine, enlisting the already homeless Cricket to peddle drugs to hobos. Cricket becomes addicted to cocaine after the gang forces it on him[36]. 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[37]. When Cricket reappears in season six, he carries the cumulative abuse with a deep hatred towards the gang for ruining his life. He talks in a deep, hoarse voice because of the cut[38]. The gang dispenses lasting misery to Cricket but escapes all their problems unscathed.

Construction of Target Audience

Both South Park and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia portray edgy topics including abortion and racism in a similarly 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[39]. In the South Park episode “Woodland Critter Christmas” (season 8, episode 14) a group of mountain lion cubs perform an abortion on Satan’s anus[40]. These absurd scenarios appeal to an immature sense of humor insensitive to women's issues. South Park’s satirical style and edgy content consistently pulls in high ratings in 18-49[41]. By offering similar content to South Park, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is able to attract a similar audience.

The characters of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia come from both ends of the economic spectrum.  Frank is extremely wealthy from his past as a businessman and his children share his affluence.  Another episode establishes Mac and Charlie as "white trash."  By portraying characters who occupy both ends of the economic specturm, the show is able to appeal to as many economic audiences as possible.  The show does lack diversity as all the main characters are white but guest characters come from a range of ethnic backgrounds.  

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”[42]. 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[43].

Production History

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is distributed by FX networks but is produced outside of FX productions[44]. 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[45]. 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[46].

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”[47]. As mentioned in our earlier, 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 indicates a sound strategy to capture some of NBC’s comedy-viewing audience once its programming ends.


Audience and Online Analysis

Programming Availability

FX makes a limited amount of its programming available on its own website. Video clips are available for all of its original series throughout the year. The channel’s two newest shows, Louie and Terriers, have more full episodes available on FX’s website than any of the others. All 13 episodes of Louie’s first season are available and the 5 most recent episodes of Terriers are available. Through streaming more episodes of Louie and Terriers than its other programs, FX has increased the audience for these new shows. FX only allows a maximum of three episodes on its website for its other series.


FX programming is also available through Hulu. The quantity of episodes is exactly the same as on FX’s website. On both sites, the full season of Louie is available as are the last five episodes of Terriers. Older shows only have three full episodes available at most. Hulu also features the same behind-the-scenes videos and episode clips as on FX’s website. Video clips and behind-the-scenes footage are present on Youtube as well. However, the sources for these clips are not always official. Many of the clips are uploaded independently of the show or FX. Active forums for the shows exist on IMDB as well as on the FX home website. This is in addition to the comments viewers leave on videos streamed at Youtube and Hulu.


Even though FX provides full episodes on Hulu and on its official site. The online audience is not very happy with FX’s posting speed. Full episodes aren’t added until 30 days after their television premiere. For new shows, it takes eight days to put the full episodes up on their site. The League and Sons of Anarchy were not put online until after the 30-day mark. This delay promotes illegal streaming and FX may lose surfers to bootleg websites [48].


Opportunities for Participation in Brand and Content

In addition to streaming episodes and video clips, FX operates a forum for each of its original shows. All show pages feature links to the show’s forum, twitter page, and a site to register for optional mobile content. Some shows provide blogs that give insight to the production process of the show. Galleries feature high quality images from episodes as well as on-set photos. If you want to go beyond viewing images, most show pages have wallpapers, posters, and screensavers available for download. Some show pages encourage more fan participation than others. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s page features fan submitted photos, a program that lets you edit your own trailer for the show, and ecards. Fans of The League can leave voicemails with their opinions about the show and some of the voicemails play on the show’s website. On Justified’s website, users can play the online games Quickdraw and Target Practice. This is in stark contrast to the page for Terriers, which only provides minimal access to paratexts.


Paratexts available on the website include blogs, games, ecards, behind the scenes video, and interactive features. For example, “The Crimeline” is an interactive overview of famous criminals in the USA provided by Justified’s website. Also, FX provides links to downloadable apps for the iPhone for its programs (e.g. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia soundboard app).


FX also provides further ways for fans to interact and consume their programming with links to Facebook and Myspace pages for individual shows. In addition to these pages, fans purchase merchandise from their favorite shows at FX’s online store. The online store is linked to all of the individual show websites.  Merchandise relates to the FX programs Archer, Sons of Anarchy, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The League, and Rescue Me.  Merchandise related to other News Corporation holdings is also available in the shop including items related to programming on News Corporation's broadcast network, Fox.  When you click on the sale tab in FX's shop it takes you to the Fox Shop.  You can buy American Dad, Family Guy, and The Simpsons merchandise in Fox's online store without ever realizing you've left FX.


Online Advertising

The FX network web site heavily advertises their own shows and the feature films it airs show banners displaying their lineup. A large portion of the advertising on FX’s website is provided by beer companies. Knowing that FX mainly targets males between the ages of 18 to 39, beer companies love to advertise on the network. Miller Lite and Coors Light have the greatest presence on the web site. Coors Light has a bigger presence than Miller Lite on the site because the advertisements for It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia feature Coors Light. Being one of the shows sponsors, Coors always figures prominently into the show with characters drinking out of their bottles and cans. Miller Lite tries to target the male audience that visits FX’s site by displaying an ad where the word “manly” is highlighted.


The FX website also advertises other cable networks and programs. For example, National Geographic’s Great Migrations and Big Ten Network’s Big Ten Icons are advertised on the FX site. News Corporation, who owns the FX network, also owns national Geographic and Big Ten Network. Even though advertising another channel’s content does not help FX directly, News Corporation gains profit from the cross promotion and advertising.

Online Fans and Forums


For the most part, fans vehemently support It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia for its original content and its penchant for the absurd. The political incorrectness and vulgarity are major selling points for viewers. One fan on the FX message boards said “I'd eat a horse t*rd for Sweet Dee in a hot second”[49]. This post echoes the general sentiment of most discussions, not just those on FX Networks[50]. An enormous majority of the fans use the message boards to offer praise to the show’s creators. In the first 100 of FX Networks 424 discussion threads, only 5 of began with negative subject matter. A majority of the forums on the Internet discuss favorite characters and quotes or directly suggest ideas for future episodes[51]. The laudatory threads garner much more interest than the derogatory ones. Between the first 3 negative threads on FX Networks there are 30 posts, while there are 200 posts between the first 3 positive threads[52]. Even threads started with negative intent such as “WTF is up this season?” or “The next episode should be The Gang Loses Their Audience” stir only a fraction of the interest positive minded topics solicit[53]. Sites with one continuous thread to host all conversation, like Television Without Pity, rarely sustain disparaging conversations but focus on a common love and admiration for the show[54].


While FX has many different threads with consistently fewer than 100 posts, some unofficial forums offer threads with thousands of posts[55]. Threads begun as discussions of the pilot episode 5 years ago reveal interesting evolutions among viewers. Many people initially started watching It's Always Sunny as a fluke or simply because it aired after Starved[56]. Television Without Pity fans express clear confusion early on about the show’s range of topics and absurd characters. As they begin to recognize the consistent lunacy of the show, it inevitably wins them over – or they stop posting[57]. The all-encompassing threads provide an interesting insight into the development of the show and its followers as they come to terms with "outside the box" programming.


These threads also offer much more diversity in terms of critical opinion and the discussions have much more legitimacy in their long running analyses of the show. TV lovers often frequent sites like Fan Forum or IMDB to discuss all television and contribute to It's Always Sunny threads as an afterthought[58]. The members celebrate a love for all television and contribute more refined opinions and more succinct analyses of the show. They don’t just concern themselves with a zealous devotion to It's Always Sunny but consider its place in the entirety of television.


In FX forums, egregious misspellings and immature hermeneutics create an air of juvenility. People come solely to offer thanks to the network. Many of the posts endearingly ask FX administrators to identify particular songs and items of clothing used in the show; these questions constitute a larger percentage of FX’s posts than they do for unofficial websites[59]. FX also consistently leads its members into conversation by presenting new threads and new questions to discuss instead of allowing ongoing conversations to develop. The topics created by FX Administrators concern the show’s promotion as well. Administrators remind members to vote for the show to win awards or to participate in specific contests the network hosts. One such contest asked fans to make a commercial for Coors and the winning commercial would air during the show[60].


In forums, the show receives a few types of criticism. First time viewers with heightened sensitivity to political correctness immediately lambast the show for its profanity and offensive themes. These people do not maintain a consistent presence on the boards – they often leave one comment to receive backlash from dozens of die-hard fans. The ill-willed responses hardly solicit an extended conversation. Most fans respond with one post, sometimes weeks later, attacking the critics’ poor sense of humor. The intensity of the attack depends on the fan’s loyalty to the show. The critic seldom responds to the insults and their criticisms rarely kill the momentum of laudatory discussion.


One poignant form of criticism comes from legitimate fans. Some sects rejects the show’s product integration. They rally around “The Great Recession” as an egregious example of product integration where both Coors and Dave and Buster’s figure prominently. The blatant commercial agenda destroys their faith in the show.


The most consistent form of criticism from long time fans centers over a decline in the show’s quality. The 6th season has caused the most controversy, alienating many fans that want the show’s creators to reclaim their dwindling writing duties and take a more active role in producing the show[61]. Some people lost interest as early as the 3rd season but many feel the plots of 6th season episodes have deteriorated, especially since the audience has expanded[62]. In the FX forum, “Seriously: What Happened This Season?”, fans spew abhorrence for the new season. They chastise the creators for losing the edge that gave the show such originality in the first place. Only 2 of the 16 posts defend the show but the thread itself dies very quickly due to simplistic analysis and unsophisticated arguments.
In many cases, however, the anger fans feel at their show’s betrayal causes them to swear off watching new episodes. They say the show sold out, either commercially or creatively, and they resign to cherishing only the first few seasons.


Despite some negativity, the overwhelming sentiment of the online community is positive. Fans love It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia for its creativity, originality and how it bears no semblance to any other show on television.


References

  1. Wen, Howard. “TV Made Unfresh Daily.” Wired. Wired.com. September 1995. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/3.09/streetcred.html?pg=14
  2. “Peter Liguori.” Discovery Communications Inc,. October 6, 2010. http://corporate.discovery.com/leadership/peter-liguori/
  3. Schneider, Michael. “The Two Faces of Fox.” Variety. Reed Elseiver Inc. March 26, 2005. http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117920089.html?categoryid=1296
  4. “FX Networks.” Hoovers.com. Hoover’s, Inc. October 6, 2010. http://premium.hoovers.com/subscribe/co/factsheet.xhtml?ID=ryscfcxyjfkxxky
  5. Walkter, Hunter. “FX Picks Up Rights to ‘Social Network,’ ‘Wall Street 2.’” The Wrap. The Wrap News, Inc. October 5, 2010.
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