FX Networks has an aggressive plan to expand its comedy biz in 2015. This year the cabler will launch two series that aim to follow the lead of critically-hailed game changer “Louie,” and Fox’s flagship cabler will take bigger steps to differentiate the branding between comedies on the mothership channel and its FXX offspring.
The latter half of that strategy began in earnest this week with the debut of “Man Seeking Woman,” a surrealist look at the dating lives of a group of twentysomethings starring Jay Baruchel (“This Is the End”) and executive produced by Lorne Michaels. The half-hour follows FXX flagship series “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia,” a cult favorite that is now entering its tenth season as a remarkably steady ratings performer.
The wacky narcissists on “Sunny” find themselves arrested for arson one week and hooked on crack the next, while when Baruchel says he’s dating a troll on “Man” (or his ex-girlfriend is sleeping with Hitler) he means it literally.
“‘Sunny’ is the only live action show that has a demographic viewing profile almost exactly like an animated show,” says Landgraf. “[The content of] ‘Sunny’ is almost as pushed as an animated show, and ‘Man Seeking Woman’ is different in tone but it’s also very pushed.”
That tone dovetails neatly with a successful off-net run for “The Simpsons,” and helps clarify FXX as a home for youthful, off-kilter programming — the median age of “Sunny’s” audience is 28 — which also factored into the decision to relocate the second season of promising hipster-com “You’re the Worst” to FXX later this year.
Landgraf says even if the modestly performing “Worst” takes a ratings hit with the move (FXX is in 77 million homes versus FX’s 90 million, and often has a less desirable location on channel lineups), he’s prepared to stick with it for the long haul provided it demonstrates solid creative growth.
“(FX drama) ‘The Americans’ didn’t grow from season one to season two — the audience actually fell off a little bit — but man did it grow creatively. That’s what cemented its status and pickup for season three,” Landgraf notes of his overall philosophy. He points out that it took four seasons for “Sunny” to emerge as a true breakout success.
He’s willing to be similarly patient while FXX establishes its identity.
“I said from the beginning it’s gonna take us a few years to sort this out until every show that ought to be on FX is on FX and every show that ought to be on FXX is on FXX,” Landgraf says. “We’ve still got a few more years to go in front of us before there’s a clear separation and differentiation between those two channels.”
Meanwhile on FX, the upcoming laffers appeal more to the grown-up humor of “Louie.” First up is the March bow of “The Comedians,” starring Billy Crystal and Josh Gad as polar opposites paired for a successful sketch comedy series. Co-written by “Seinfeld’s” Larry Charles, Landgraf describes it as a show where “comedy and tragedy are very adjacent” but also “really frickin’ funny.”
“I really like drama in comedy but I look at comedies as shows that fundamentally want to view the world through a comic prism,” he says.
Come summer, FX will add Denis Leary’s “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” which brings the star of “Rescue Me” back to the net, this time in a half-hour format. Then there’s the Louis CK-produced Zach Galifianakis topliner “Baskets” — which Landgraf describes as “City Lights” meets “Napoleon Dynamite.” It won’t be ready until 2016 because of Galifianakis’ film schedule but Landgraf calls the mix of physical comedy, silent movie humor and cinematic style “like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”
Not yet ordered to series are pilots from Donald Glover (“Atlanta”) and the “Sunny” team of Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton (“Pariah”) — both of which sound like natural fits for FXX, though Landgraf says he’s “sometimes surprised” when he sees how a pilot turns out.
“The Tracy Morgan Project” is still a possibility for FXX down the line, pending the health of the star. “There’s no update right now. We don’t even really know how he’s doing to tell you the truth,” Landgraf says. “We’re just waiting patiently on the sidelines.”
One experiment that’s definitively over: the multicamera “10-90” shows like Charlie Sheen-starrer “Anger Management” and the Kelsey Grammer, Martin Lawrence collaboration “Partners.” Landgraf says he viewed those shows like off-network acquisitions intended to bolster a stable of programming but now believes “you need the built in audience created by a viewing habit developed over many many years at a broadcast network to make that work.”
Instead, FX remains committed to its signature in-house productions, whether they’re in line with the comic shenanigans of “Sunny” and FXX or tragi-coms like “Louie” for FX.
“Taste in comedy is even more fractured than taste in drama,” Landgraf says. “What moves people, what scares them, what engages them, is more consistent than what makes them laugh.”