On Monday, September 2, FX Networks will debut its brand new comedy-skewed channel, FXX. For all the comedy that exists on television these days, no cable channel has launched with the specific intention of focusing on comedy since The Comedy Channel and Ha! merged into Comedy Central back in 1991. (Adult Swim was designated a separate network from the Cartoon Network in 2005 for ratings purposes, but still shares channel space.) Other networks like TBS and IFC have drifted into comedy-centric programming over time, slowly building original content amid reruns of acquired sitcoms and sketch shows. FX has followed that path as well, finding its first original sitcom hit in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia back in 2005 and since then playing home to game-changers like Louie and Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell (but then also, Anger Management).
While FXX’s official focus is “younger-skewing” programming aimed at 18- to 34-year-olds instead of exclusively on comedy (as was initially reported), the reality of that demographic means much of its programming will be comedy. The network, which kicks off with a 17-hour Parks and Recreation “Treat Yo' Self" marathon, will have It’s Always Sunny, The League, and Legit as flagship sitcoms and expand Totally Biased to five nights a week (with new shows Monday through Thursday, and a compilation on Sundays). It will also air Danny McBride’s new animated comedy, Chozen. FXX has also acquired an significant collection of old sitcoms to pad its schedule; alongside Parks and Rec, expect to see reruns of Arrested Development, Sports Night, How I Met Your Mother, and Freaks and Geeks. Its initial movie roster is somewhat less impressive, with comedies like Bad Teacher and Hall Pass paired with superhero films Iron Man and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
Meanwhile, Louie, Wilfred, and Archer will remain at FX, and FX Movie Channel (FXM) will begin airing original programming aimed at those of us ancient enough to fall into the 25-to-54 demographic, though no FXM shows have been announced yet. At the Television Critics Association Press Tour this summer, FX Networks CEO John Landgraf said that he hoped “viewers will move from FXX to FX to FXM as they — and their tastes – mature,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
"We're really not looking to change FX that much with the creation of FXX," says Chuck Saftler, COO and President of Program Strategy at FX Networks. "To get it kicked it off, we took two of our shows – It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The League – to, in essence, give people a sense of what we're gonna do with the channel. But our game plan going down the road isn't really about moving shows from FX to FXX, although that may occasionally happen. It's really about developing new content for the channel."
At a press conference in June, Landgraf told reporters that FXX will likely look less polished than other networks. “The entire on-air look is structured around the social media notion of self-documentation and the fact that that generation is a generation that has been photographing and videotaping itself, so there's a do-it-yourself quality to the way media is created by that generation." Landgraf said. "You'll see a blending of the DIY in the way that channel is branded, from the graphics to the on-air promos designed to feel very cutting-edge and organic and very much home to a really young viewer."
This less traditional attitude will be evident in the programming as well, which Saftler repeatedly described as irreverent. "Irreverence doesn't mean that it's not sophisticated, it doesn't mean that it's not intelligent," he elaborated, saying that It's Always Sunny "established the voice that we feel exemplifies our brand. But what we're really doing with FXX is we're expanding what we've established on FX, rather than creating a new model of comedy."
One of the big areas of growth at the network may be in the late night arena. As TBS and Comedy Central expand their late night schedules, it seems natural that FXX would build on its Totally Biased success. "I think that we've found a really unique voice in Kamau, and I think that if we're gonna expand in that area, we're gonna look for something that plays compatibly with what he is creating," said Saftler. "Kamau's got a fantastic take on social commentary. I think he's noisy, I think he's fantastic, and I think he's brilliant. So we're gonna be looking for other talent that has similar characteristics."
In an interview last week with The Hollywood Reporter, FXX executives Eric Schrier and Nick Grad said they would dream of adding Howard Stern or Marc Maron to the late-night lineup of FXX. “I spend a lot of my time in my car listening either to Howard or to Maron's WTF podcast,” Grad said. “Who knows if it would translate because I think part of what allows them to have such great interviews is the length. [In late-night], there's not enough time [for guests] to let their guard down.” They also called The Daily Show “the gold standard of where funny meets smart,” citing it as an existing cable show that could fit on the new network.
Saftler emphasized that FX's reputation for giving significant creative control to its artists will continue as the brand expands. "That's cultivated from the top here, from John Landgraf down," he said. "That is absolutely where this network comes from, meaning FX, FXX, and FXM. So as it's the same management team at all three networks, that is the principle that guides us in developing creative. It's the only way you find a unique voice."
Elise Czajkowski is a Contributing Editor at Splitsider. She will probably be watching 17 hours of Parks and Rec on Monday if anyone needs her.