FX burnishes ‘Shield’

Cabler poised for gains with advertisers, cable operators

Michael Chiklis, star of FX drama series “The Shield,” may have been holding the Emmy Award last weekend, but he wasn’t the only winner.

“Thanks to my formerly small network,” Chiklis said in his acceptance speech.

Indeed, with Chiklis’ victory for lead actor in a drama series, the relatively little viewed FX instantly leaped from just-another-channel status to ranking among the elite club of legitimate TV series players.

“From ‘Television Made Fresh Daily’ to Sunday night is a pretty broad arc,” admits FX Networks president-CEO Peter Liguori, referring to the net’s original slogan and mission when it launched nearly a decade ago.

The win wasn’t just the first Emmy for Chiklis and FX. It repped the first time an actor had snagged a statuette for a basic-cable perf.

And now, FX has the chance to channel the momentum of the award to make further gains by creating some sparks with advertisers, cable operators — and especially the creative community.

Of course, plenty of other folks stand to gain from Chiklis’ win.

For “The Shield” producer Fox TV Studios — like FX, a News Corp. division — the Emmy victory will likely mean a big bump in ancillary revenue streams from the show, such as home entertainment and international sales.

Sony Pictures Television, which reorganized its small- screen efforts in the past year and came on board “The Shield” as a partner/distributor after the pilot was shot, showed it knows an opportunity when it sees it — and isn’t afraid to take it.

Sony already has sold the show in many international territories and soon will wing its way to Mipcom to sell the show in more regions, likely for a prettier penny than it would have sans statuette.

But it’s FX that took the biggest leap Sept. 22 — and it’s FX that stands to reap the most rewards down the line.

Cabler has already come far in less than a decade.

The News Corp. network started out in 1994 in 18 million homes with such cheeky, broad fare as “Fox After Breakfast,” then moved on to the gross-out guy humor of “Bobcat’s Big Ass Show” and Howard Stern’s “Son of the Beach.”

Along the way, a controversial attempt was made to drive viewership with repeats of marquee Fox-produced shows like “The X-Files” and “NYPD Blue,” which resulted in self-dealing lawsuits — but not the kind of ratings the net betted on.

Finally, about two years ago, Liguori lured away broadcast vet Kevin Reilly from Brillstein-Grey TV and charged him with a new mission: Remake FX into a basic cable version of HBO. “The Shield” was the first stab at fulfilling the mandate, and so far it’s worked like a charm.

“With ‘The Shield,’ FX kept their edge, but got a lot more upscale and intelligent about it,” says Tim Brooks, senior VP of research at Lifetime Television. “They became respectable edgy, rather than snickering teenager edgy.”

The Emmy recognition for the show “puts a stamp of respectability such as the FX network has never had,” Brooks adds. The net is viewed in 79 million homes nationwide.

Already, Liguori says affils are now “feeling that FX is starting to make good on its promise to invest in the net and bring compelling programming, programming that will enhance basic cable packages.”

And when the time comes to negotiate renewals, channel positions and additional distribution, FX can do so armed with an Emmy (unlike most basic cablers). And some advertisers once squeamish about “The Shields'” racy content might now change their minds.

The Emmy should have the greatest impact among the creative community.

“In order to produce a ‘Shield,’ or shows approaching that level, you have to get the best creatives in Hollywood to pitch to you to talk to you,” Brooks says. “A lot of them wouldn’t talk to FX not that long ago — at one time they wouldn’t talk to cable at all. This may change that.”

Indeed, basic cable arguably is on the threshold of a hay day for scripted series.

“Basic cable has been around for 20 years, but the noise that ‘The Shield’ made, ‘Monk’ made, ‘The Dead Zone’ made is unprecedented in those 20 years,” says Jackie Lyons, senior VP of original series programming for USA Network, home of “Monk” and “Dead Zone.”

Adds Sony Pictures TV programming prexy Russ Krasnoff: “The Emmy win for Michael Chiklis really does justify that quality TV programming is coming from a lot of places.”

The biggest challenge for FX in coming months will be to continue to churn out more successes.

“The main thing they have to do, that any network in cable has to do, is determine what its brand is, what their programs should feel like, what the texture should be, and then relentlessly promote it,” Brooks says.

In other words, FX needs to emulate cablers like MTV, Nick and Lifetime, which regularly follow up one success with a compatible show that can be hyped during the first hit’s second season.

“If they have something that works on the air after the February sweep or even the May sweep, it will further their momentum,” he adds. “If they wait three years, they won’t.”

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