Cable network unveils programming at TCA

FX made plenty of programming news Tuesday at the Television Critics Assn. tour, announcing that “Nip/Tuck” will end its run in 2011, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” has been picked up for 39 more episodes and laffer “Testees” has been greenlit to series.

Net ordered 19 additional episodes of “Nip/Tuck,” besides the 22 in production. By the end of its run, Warner Bros. TV-produced skein will hit the 100-episode mark, a magic number for the syndie market — although serialized dramas don’t fare as well in syndication as procedurals or sitcoms.

“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” which begins its fourth season Sept. 18, has seen ratings growth in each season since its launch and will be on the cabler until at least 2011. The cast and production team will remain intact.

FX topper John Landgraf also announced that “Testees,” from creator Kenny Hotz (“Kenny vs. Spenny”), will receive a 13-episode order and launch Oct. 9 in the 10:30 p.m. timeslot following “Sunny.” Series revolves around two friends in their early 30s who earn a living as medical guinea pigs.

Hotz is exec producing, along with John Morayniss and Michael Rosenberg of Blueprint Entertainment. FX Prods., Blueprint and Canwest will produce.

“Testees” is one of four low-cost comedy pilots FX has been developing as companion pieces to “Sunny.” The others remain in contention for pickup.

Landgraf said no decision has been made on the future of “The Riches,” the Irish Traveler con artist drama starring Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver. Ratings in the 18-49 demo fell 44% in season two vs. season one, and with marketing expenditure required for the net’s more commercially successful series, renewal doesn’t seem likely.

In casting news, Ted Danson will return to the second season of “Damages.” His character was shot in the first season finale but survived. It’s unclear in how many episodes he’ll appear. Added to the cast are Marcia Gay Harden, Timothy Olyphant and the previously announced William Hurt.

Michael J. Fox will have an arc on the fifth season of “Rescue Me,” which begins in the spring and is in the midst of producing 22 episodes. He’ll play the boyfriend of Andrea Roth, whose character is the estranged wife of Denis Leary’s character, Tommy Gavin.

September will be a busy month for the net. The final season of “The Shield” launches Sept. 2, and freshman drama “The Sons of Anarchy” begins a day later.

Landgraf said FX has a winning percentage on launching shows that last more than a single season, and net’s success is based on trying to find non-traditional concepts.

“When you aim high, it’s challenging. We don’t want to replicate a tried-and-true formula that has worked multiple times with a variant, a medical case of the week,” Landgraf said. “We’re trying to put a show on the air that’s original.”

Exec producer Ryan Murphy will remain with “Nip/Tuck” until the show’s conclusion. He had previously been attached to FX pilot “Pretty Handsome,” about a man who realizes he’s a transsexual, but that project didn’t go forward.

Landgraf said he felt it was right for “Nip/Tuck” to finish its run at 100 episodes. If the show were to continue past that number, he said it would lose a lot of its creative steam.

“It’s really hard to be (commercially) successful and creatively excellent, especially when you have serialized shows. I believe they have a diminishing return. If you had 150 episodes of ‘The Sopranos’ or ‘The Shield,’ you diminish the caliber of those shows,” he said. “We have unique challenges as an ad-supported network. Our creative competitors are Showtime, HBO and now AMC. Commercially, it’s networks like USA and TNT. The bar is high.”

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