Just What Is FX Doing?

The popular but slightly faded FX comedies The League and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia will move over to FXX (the double X, as I'm sure we'll all soon be calling it) to help get things started and attract advertisers, and then a new spate of programming will begin. So what's the reasoning behind this? Let's speculate.

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This morning, John Landgraf, the president of the popular cable channel FX, announced that a new spin-off network is in the works. It will be called FXX and, it seems, will cater to a younger demographic. The popular but slightly faded FX comedies The League and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia will move over to the double X (as I'm sure we'll all soon be calling it) to help get things started and attract advertisers, and then a new spate of programming will begin. So what's the reasoning behind this? Let's speculate.

The new FXX will be specifically targeting the 18-34-year-old demographic, which is a pretty narrow one, but lucrative too. And, unfortunately, we can probably assume they're chiefly concerned with attracting males if The League, Always Sunny, and the rest of the migrating shows — Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, Legit, and possibly Brand X — are any indication. So this is something of a high-brow Spike for the college grad new media set. I mean, to put it in the most obnoxious terms. FX has always had an air of bro-iness about it, though that's been changing in recent years. Perhaps FXX is the company's way of acknowledging that fratty quality and putting it all onto its own network. FXX reaps the Bud and Axe money, leaving FX freed up to go full-on classy.

You need look no further than AMC, with its fancy BMW and other luxury brand deals, to see that, even if you don't have the most highly rated shows, you can reel in handsomely paying campaigns if you have the most respectable programming, the real award-winning, watercooler stuff. That has been lost on FX, I'm sure. The network has been building its quality portfolio steadily and prodigiously over the past ten years or so, but they've never quite crossed over into the sweet, sweet realm of capital-R Respect the way AMC has — and AMC rocketed into that category in half the time. So that's why, I suspect, we're starting to see shows like The Americans and the upcoming adaptation of the Danish sensation The Bridge; the network is building toward a higher level of "prestige" while still keeping a toe or two in the butch-ish, crime 'n' grime milieu that made them. That's why Ang Lee's coming into to direct a geopolitical thriller pilot for the network. That's why they just ordered a pilot from celebrated oddball visionary Charlie Kaufman. FX is pointing the baser bros to this new FXX while more heavily putting their focus on the 18-49ers who like to chew on quality television. You know, those "influencers" whom certain brands crave.

Of course there's been no word on Charlie Sheen's Anger Management switching networks, and it probably won't. That's too lucrative a show. So the network isn't going to become AMC or HBO over night. But I suspect it's moving that way, and this FXX is a rather clever strategy to have it both ways. They get their stoner dude audience on the second network, and they can build a more elegant crowd on the mothership. I'm sure there are some behind-the-scenes nuances to this plan, and some financial considerations that we're unaware of, but from where I'm sitting this looks like a big, bold, and potentially exciting development. FX has proven pretty shrewd but also daring in putting various shows on the air — nailing the hard-to-perfect Elmore Leonard patois with Justified, throwing grand guignol gunk at us with American Horror Story, successfully tapping into the Homeland trend of tingly paranoia with The Americans (a show I don't watch but which seems to have some pretty invested fans). So if they free up some more schedule space while classing up their brand a little bit by creating FXX — sorry, the double X — there's really no reason to think they won't continue to produce more and better shows that a select audience wants to watch. And the great thing is everybody wins. They get rich and rewarded, we get served some (hopefully) original and inventive television. The cable revolution continues!

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.