FX Proclaims the End of Edgy - Macleans.ca
 

FX Proclaims the End of Edgy


 

Not really, but the FX network’s newest presentation, according to Broadcasting and Cable, emphasizes its attempt to create shows with “broad,” “mainstream” appeal, more in the vein of other basic cable competitors like USA and TNT. This is a turnaround from the brand they tried successfully to create over the past few years, when they basically invented the concept that a basic-cable network could compete head-to-head with HBO and come up with “edgy” shows: The Shield, It’s Always Sunny, Damages (though at this point that’s less “edgy” than “insanely silly”). In fact, one of their upcoming light USA-style dramas, the private-eye show Terriers, is produced by The Shield‘s Shawn Ryan, who is competing for the Busiest Man in TV title; he was recently working on Terriers, a new pilot, and episodes of Lie To Me in three different cities at once.

The success of Justified may have turned it into the template for what FX seeks to do: sort of do USA type of light dramas, but with an FX sheen of edginess to keep shows from being (as an executive puts it in the article) all the way on the “right side” of the entertainment spectrum with The Closer and White Collar.  Still, the obvious inferrence here is that despite the popularity of Sons of Anarchy and other successful FX dramas, the network has concluded that a basic-cable operation can’t sustain a lineup that’s dark and edgy across the board.

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This may demonstrate that the HBO model doesn’t fully transfer to basic cable (we’ll see how long AMC can keep it up), or it may simply demonstrate that all of cable is going “lighter” in its own way. HBO, after all, has lightened up too, just in a different way from USA; its flagship show, True Blood, is trashier and campier than the more high-minded shows of the network’s past, and its upcoming projects include more genre material that can attract younger viewers (like Game of Thrones). They’re still doing dark material, but with a layer of fantasy that makes it less obviously dark.

So this could be the flip side of the trend I’ve pointed to before, where light fare has trouble taking hold on broadcast networks. At the same time that broadcast networks are getting darker, cable is getting lighter. Obviously there will still be some shows that are too dark for ABC/CBS/NBC and will find a home on cable instead, but cable is also increasingly the home for shows that are too light for broadcast — and what’s more, cable seems to need light entertainment in order to survive. Which puts networks like FX in a tricky position: their status as a known brand depends on being tough and gritty, but they need to do more light genre entertainment in order to attract more viewers and advertisers.

Update: AMC, I forgot to mention, is also going for an HBO-style combination of edgy/violent with genre material, further cementing their status as basic cable’s most reliable HBO imitator.

Update 2: A lot of FX’s new strategy may have to do with Damages, a very expensive show that has never delivered the kind of numbers or even (after the first season) prestige that the network would have hoped for. The head of FX just confirmed that the show’s production company is in talks with DirectTV to save it, Friday Night Lights-style, by defraying some of FX’s costs; if that doesn’t happen, it’s probably gone.


 
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FX Proclaims the End of Edgy

  1. Considering that the first episode of "Game Of Thrones" is set to contain — among other things — incestuous sex, brutal executions, severed heads being used as soccer balls and children getting thrown out of upper story buildings (after witnessing aforementioned incestuous sex), I think it's fairly safe to say that the series is not intended to "attract younger viewers."

    • Younger viewers than Deadwood, though? HBO doesn't want kids, but they do want fantasy/genre fans.

      • GAME OF THRONES has less use of the C-bomb than DEADWOOD (though it's still there, if not until later books/seasons), but in pretty much every other respect it's batting in the league of DEADWOOD and ROME for nudity, sexual themes and violence, certainly moreso than TRUE BLOOD (which doesn't exactly hold back on the blood and gore when called for). There's only so young they can go with the marketing for the series.

        • I don't think, though, that the presence of profanity, sex and violence exactly drive away viewers in the 18-49 range. What does drive them away is an old-skewing genre, which may have been one of Deadwood's problems (that is, R-rated things being equal, the fantasy story is still going to skew younger than the Western).

          • Ah, I see what you mean. Yes, I suspect that the series may appeal to the lower end of that age range more than DEADWOOD. Certainly that age range is strongly represented in the books' fanbase.

            At the same time, the books aren't really THE LORD OF THE RINGS. There are no elves, dwarves, talking trees or wizards throwing fireballs at one another. There's only three scenes in the first book that even have supernatural/magical elements in them at all (admittedly one of them being the very first scene in the entire book). The rest of the time it is a medieval costume drama which probably has a lot more in common with THE TUDORS than say LEGEND OF THE SEEKER. In fact, it's a while before we even see any overt battles or duels in the series. Most of Book/Season 1 is structured instead as a slow-burning murder mystery with some political intrigue (and sex) heaped on top.

            How the audience reacts to those elements will be interesting, and is certainly an issue the books have also faced. They are hard to categorise as they have elements of fantasy, the supernatural, real history and medieval warfare, but don't fit easily into any of those pigeonholes. I'm very interested in seeing how HBO approaches the marketing for it as emphasising any one aspect might scare off viewers who might enjoy other elements.

  2. If memory serves me right, A Game of Thrones is just about as child friendly as 4chan. The first time one of the main characters (Daenerys Targaryen) is introduced, she's being sexually assaulted by her brother. She is also 13 and is being more-or-less sold to a warlord in exchange for a army. Lets make this clear FX: Fantasy does NOT equal lighter in the same way that a white room with a flickering light bulb does NOT equal art.