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Creators’ fire elevates series

Shock, not schlock, creates critical buzz

A renegade cop who shoots a fellow officer in the pilot episode, two plastic surgeons who reconfigure a gangster’s face to save their lives and a New York firefighter sleeping with the wife of a buddy who died Sept. 11.

While it is unclear whether those unconventional plot points helped turn “The Shield,” “Nip/Tuck” and “Rescue Me,” respectively, into bona fide hits for FX, one thing for certain is that auds couldn’t find those storylines anywhere else.

FX topper Peter Liguori proudly attributes the acclaimed shows to a specific creative vision.

“We’re highly defined in what we ask for: shows that are contemporary, dealing with issues of today explored in an unvarnished fashion and very interested in character development. We’re highly selective about what we put on the air.”

That’s something critics have quickly learned to appreciate.

“TV’s a better place for having FX there,” says TV Guide’s Matt Roush. “With a handful of series, they’ve established a brand identity and done it with spectacular entertainment value.”

Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle agrees and praises the cabler’s commitment to quality.

“It was bold to go in this direction. To say, ‘Let’s get known for high-quality drama that’s taking chances. Let’s push the basic cable parameters to the maximum.’ ”

No doubt about it, FX original series have pushed basic cable boundaries. All of the skeins incorporate coarse language and nudity in ways that most other networks are reluctant to attempt.

According to Roush, “For anyone who wants to see grown-up entertainment that is provocative, risk-taking and audacious, FX has been the place to go. FX shows may be weighted toward shock value, but they’re shockingly good.”

Since 2002, award groups have tended to agree. “The Shield” has received four Emmy noms and picked up a trophy in its first season for lead actor Michael Chiklis. “Nip/Tuck” was nominated for five Emmys in its debut season (winning for prosthetic makeup). “Rescue Me” landed a Golden Globe nom for lead Denis Leary and will be a first-time Emmy contender this year.

Both “The Shield” and “Nip/Tuck” have won top drama honors at the Globes, while all three series made the American Film Institute’s list of 10 best TV programs of 2004. Numerous other laurels and nominations have come their way. Even the short-lived “Lucky” received an Emmy nomination for comedy writing.

Behind the scenes, series creators Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”), Ryan Murphy (“Nip/Tuck”) and Denis Leary and Peter Tolan (“Rescue Me”) are all network TV refugees experiencing new career highs thanks to their work for the cabler.

“The creative integrity that a lot of the actors and writers have brought to this network is integral to our success,” notes Liguori.

The network has put its money where its mouth is, signing Ryan and Murphy to multimillion-dollar pacts after their first two seasons.

“That’s a sign of a network that will have a lot more success than failures. They’re letting the writers and directors lead them, instead of pushing them along,” says Goodman. “None of the shows on FX seem like they have notes kicked back from the network. I’d venture to guess there’s not a whole lot of meddling.”

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