×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

How ‘Archer’s’ Ability to ‘Reinvent the Reinvention’ Aided Its Road to 100 Episodes

The animated “Archer” premiered in fall 2009 on cable network FX as a comedic take on the spy genre. At the center of the show was the titular character (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin), a man with mommy issues and probably a drinking problem who happened to be a really adept spy at a top-secret agency — run by the mother that gave him those issues (voiced by Jessica Walter). But over the course of its nine seasons and 100 episodes, the key to its longevity was fearlessness on behalf of the writers, producers and network itself to break typical format and bend genres.

“What’s so great about ‘Archer’ is it’s like nothing else,” says FX Networks CEO John Landgraf. “It is this singular combination of absolutely sharp great writing, unbelievably excellent voice cast, and a phenomenal visual sensibility that was built from the ground up by [executive producers] Adam Reed [and] Matt Thompson, and their animation studio specifically to service this visual style.”

The early days of the series focused heavily on grand scale spy missions that often saw Archer and Lana (voiced by Aisha Tyler) getting into car chases, going undercover, and getting into shootouts with a variety of bad guys while their co-workers stayed back at the office, experiencing the mundanity of computer hackings and paperwork. It was a formula that worked — the first season averaged just under a million live+same day viewers (964,000) and the series was given a larger episode order for its second year (up to 13, from the first season’s 10). Benjamin also scored the show’s first Emmy nomination with a voice acting nom in 2010.

“I knew right away when I did the pilot that the character of Archer was pretty unique and the writing was so sharp,” Benjamin says. “First and foremost I think Adam Reed is really good at what he does, in the sense that he writes really interesting characters and the world is really engaging because there are a lot of recriminations and passive aggression and murder. But also the care in which they make the show and the way [it] looks is a prime factor in presenting it as really unique.”

But series creator Reed started to feel constrained by the structure, and says he was growing concerned that “nobody [was] going to come to this party” despite the ratings being up (averaging 1.1 million total viewers for that second year). So he started to kick around the idea of branching into other genres.

The end of the third season saw the gang head to outer space for a two-part story, and then the following year Reed took them under the sea for another two-parter. Then they went all-in on the fifth season, with the bubblegum-colored, ‘80s inspired “Archer: Vice” that saw the gang working a case in Florida.

“Adam came to us [and] said he wanted to break the show from a spy show to ‘Miami Vice’ that season. He wanted to try something different, not with the tone of the show, but with the structure,” says Kate Lambert, FX’s senior vice president of series development and animation.

“It was from him feeling like he wanted to break the form; at the time we weren’t having creators do that.”

Reed’s idea revitalized the series. After the fifth season, “Archer” went into syndication, first with an exclusive deal with Comedy Central. The same year, a deal was made for the online streaming rights of the hit series and “Archer” nabbed its first Emmy nom for animated series. To date, it has been nominated four times and won once — in 2016.

Subsequent seasons became more serialized, each taking on a unique tone. They included a brief turn to the CIA (season six), a Los Angeles-set look at the world of private investigators (season seven), and a journey into Archer’s subconscious (seasons eight and nine) after he was found, seemingly murdered, face-down in a pool at the end of the seventh year.

“What’s so great about ‘Archer’ is it’s like nothing else.”
John Landgraf

“On the production side of things it’s very exciting at the start of the season to see what we’re going to do,” says co-executive producer Casey Willis.

Just weeks after the seventh season wrapped on FX, the network announced a three-year renewal and new overall deal with the show’s production company Floyd County Prods.

In January 2017, just months before the eighth season premiered, it was announced that “Archer” was one of a few legacy shows to join the lineup at newer comedy-focused net FXX. The show launched its eighth season — but first subconscious season — that April, seeing 742,000 live+same day viewers for premiere.

“Archer: Dreamland” was set inside a comatose Archer’s mind — a darker look at life as a private eye hunting for a killer. The season averaged 465,000 live+same day viewers and a 0.3 rating.

The ninth season, “Danger Island,” which launched this April, is a lighter, brighter trip to a pre-World War II South Pacific island. The season premiere brought in 0.5 million live+same day viewers to FXX.

Moving into such anthology-style storytelling has allowed the show’s writers and producers to tweak relationships or create completely new ones. In “Dreamland,” for example, Malory had a brief reprieve from being Archer’s mother, while in “Danger Island,” Cyril (voiced by Chris Parnell) is a Nazi, and Krieger (voiced by Lucky Yates) is a different species altogether.

“This whole thing became incredibly freeing that we can go anywhere we want,” says executive producer Matt Thompson. “The core principles of our characters, for the most part, are there season to season. Maybe one or two will take a departure [and] then there’s the wrench that gets thrown in to change everything [but] as long as Archer remains at the center of it — as long as Archer both punches and gets punched around, both physically and emotionally — it makes a brand new tale that still feels familiar.”

The idea of anthology storytelling has opened up the world of “Archer,” which not only lends itself to making noise in today’s increasingly crowded television landscape but should give it legs for years to come.

“What’s so fun about television these days is how cinematic and visually inventive it’s able to be,” Landgraf says. “[‘Archer’] not only reinvented the spy genre, but now it takes place in this weird out-of-time reality and it can reinvent that reinvention.”

More TV

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Signs of Solidarity and Strain Emerge as Week 2 of WGA-Talent Agency Standoff Begins

    Hundreds of WGA members rallied solidly behind their union last week as the industry grappled with uncertainties spurred by the sudden break between writers and their talent agency representatives. But as the standoff heads into its second week, signs of strain among some WGA members are beginning to emerge. Shalom Auslander, author and creator of [...]

  • Jon Snow Arya Stark Game of

    'Game of Thrones' Final Season Vegas Odds Reveal Wild Theories

    With “Game of Thrones” hype at an all-time high, Las Vegas may be raking in as much money as the Iron Bank. HBO’s fantasy masterpiece has seized the gambling world’s attention nearly as much as the Super Bowl or Kentucky Derby. Fans spew countless theories on social media, such as which characters will be axed [...]

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • Adam Lambert, of Queen, performs at

    Adam Lambert Back to 'Idol' to Mentor Finalists Through Queen's Catalog

    Adam Lambert famously launched his career on “American Idol” a decade ago performing a brilliant audition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He wrapped that amazing eighth season performing with the band on the season finale, and years later earned his current spot as the front man touring as Queen + Adam Lambert. On April 28, Lambert comes full circle as he steps [...]

  • Lily Tomlin SAG Lifetime Acheivement Award

    TV News Roundup: Netflix's 'Laugh-In' 50th Anniversary Tribute Sets Premiere Date

    In today’s TV News roundup, Netflix sets the premiere date for its 50th anniversary special of “Laugh-In.” DATES “Laugh-In: The Stars Celebrate,” the 50th anniversary tribute to the original series by Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, will premiere on Netflix on May 14. The special, which was taped at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, pays [...]

  • Texas Tech's Norense Odiase (32) shoots

    Live+3 Ratings for Week of April 8: NCAA Championship Game Dunks on Competition

    The final of the 2019 NCAA basketball tournament, in which Virginia triumphed over a spirited Texas Tech team, unsurprisingly finished way out in front in the Live+3 ratings for the week of April 8. Although the sports broadcast’s scripted competition made some gains, its 5.4 ratings still more than doubled that of “Grey’s Anatomy” in [...]

  • Mueller Report Release Draws 11 Million

    Mueller Report Release Draws 11 Million Total Viewers Across TV News

    Coverage of the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into whether President Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice unsurprisingly caused a ratings bump across TV news yesterday. In terms of overall viewership, around 11 million people tuned in to see Attorney General William Barr’s news conference regarding the report’s release, and the news coverage surrounding it. According [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content