While many channels now have schedules that mostly consist of reruns, syndicated shows, and licensed movies, there is one that has maintained the quality that was achieved in the golden era of cable television — FX.
It took a while for FX to hit its stride with original programming. Once it picked up comedies, including Archer and The League, along with the dramas Sons of Anarchy and The Americans, the channel was doing well. However, with the downfall of other similar channels, the future for FX was far from certain. Between the rise of streaming and Disney’s purchase of FX’s parent company, things looked pretty shaky for a moment, but thankfully, disaster has been averted.
FX has had to do a lot to sustain itself, but between smart programming decisions, a partnership with Hulu, and a bit of luck, the channel has continued to thrive. FX is in the news a lot at the moment with its surprise hit, The Bear, new hilarious seasons of What We Do in the Shadows and Reservation Dogs, and the endings of both Atlanta and Better Things. Here is what has made FX a modern success.
Update January 26, 2024: FX’s The Bear had a sweep at the Primetime Emmy’s, Critic’s Choice Awards, and The Golden Globes and with their upcoming release, Shōgun, this article has been updated by Samuel Corimer with more details on how FX has thrived in the age of streaming.
One way that FX has thrived where other networks have struggled is their embrace of streaming. FX series are readily available on Hulu for viewers to watch and enjoy. This means that audiences can quickly catch up on their favorite FX series, even while they are currently on, so viewers can still talk about them even if they miss when an episode broadcast. This has been vital for viewers who have cut the chord and rely solely on streaming.This collaboration with Hulu has recently extended to the
FX on Hulu pack
. This pack means that FX is creating series specifically for Hulu that cannot be watched on the broadcast channel. This has resulted in series like
, and the upcoming
. This simple trick attracts more viewers to their streaming service because of the ease of access at a smaller cost. With Disney now having purchased full control of Hulu, FX series through a Hulu hub are now appearing on Disney+. They have managed the smart dispatch of their shows across various streaming platforms, ensuring positive outcomes. This way, even viewers who do not have a cable package can choose to give their money specifically to FX, allowing them instant access to their favorite shows.
Platforming Marginalized Voices
FX has been a champion of promoting diversity behind and in front of the camera. Shows like Atlanta and Better Things brought Black and female perspectives onto televisions where they were, and still are, sorely needed. The network also gave Donald Glover and Pamela Adlon the freedom to create genre-bending works that allowed them to share their points of view authentically. These two showrunners took advantage of the opportunity afforded to them by FX and made programs that refused to be restrained by any preconceived notions of what a “Black” or “woman’s” shows looked like. The same can be said of LGBTQ+ representation, the biggest example being network favorite Ryan Murphy, who co-created American Horror Story, Pose, and more beloved FX shows.
As both Atlanta and Better Things have now ended, the torch was carried on by the incredibly funny and affecting Reservation Dogs. Since Atlanta and Better Things premiered in 2016, things have gotten better for Black and female representation, even if things are still far from perfect. However, few places are promoting indigenous voices to the same degree as FX. Thankfully, Sterlin Harjo’s magnificent show is a step in the right direction and showcases the experiences of modern Native Americans in a way that many people have never seen before. Starring four Native actors, including three women, and destroying clichés one at a time, Reservation Dogs tapped into a new market and educated audiences all at the same time. The series just concluded its three-season run.
Next up is Shōgun, an adaptation of the 1975 novel of the same name that is set in the late Sengoku period in Japan. The series will feature prominent Japanese stars like Hiroyuki Sanada (Mortal Kombat), Anna Sawai (Monarch: Legacy of Monsters), Tadanobu Asano (Silence), Fumi Nikaidō (River’s Edge), and Takehiro Hira (Snake Eyes: G.I Joe Origins). This, along with series like Atlanta, Better Things, Reservation Dogs, and more, shows that FX is looking at making sure it features a more diverse roster of series for a world that is becoming more globalized.
Maintaining a Consistent Tone
With the current glut of platforms churning out more content than ever before, being a TV fan can quickly get overwhelming. Additionally, the increased output volume also means the number of lackluster shows to wade through has become even larger. However, FX has done a great job with curation. Almost everything that the channel has a hand in creating is entertaining, but FX shows also often have a certain feel.
Their sophisticated series are always innovative and often mix comedy and drama in compelling ways, with a dash of magical realism for good measure. While they might not have the high budgets or production quality as a premium cable channel, their original programming never feels lacking in substance or style.
FX seems to be one of the few platforms at the moment with a specific brand, outside specialist options like The Criterion Channel and Mubi. While other places try (and, at times, fail) to appeal to everyone, FX manages to make shows for a specific audience and please the masses. They mainly address young, racially and sexually diverse audiences who need to see themselves represented and thriving in mainstream media but sometimes also feel like dropping their inhibitions and watching a politically incorrect show like Archer. However, FX never forgets the average viewer and still pushes more traditional shows such as Fargo or Married in order to have options for everyone.
Mixing Established IP With New Ideas
While its truly original programming is remarkable, FX has also made wise use of adapting established existing intellectual properties onto the small screen. In particular, Noah Hawley has been a fantastic partner with FX, starting with his adaptation of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo. What could’ve been an unnecessary addition to a complete film became must-watch television thanks to Hawley and his team, along with an outstanding cast. Hawley also created the underrated Legion for the network, which provided a unique and trippy take on the X-Men. Between these two series and an upcoming Alien show, FX’s decision to hire Hawley was one of their best.
Hawley’s not the only one creating great adaptations for FX, however. What We Do in the Shadows, based on the 2014 mockumentary of the same name, has proven to be a hit for the network. The show, created by Jemaine Clement, who co-wrote the film with Taika Waititi, is just as good, if not better, than its already humorous source material. FX’s willingness to revive seemingly one-and-done indie films has been surprisingly effective, leading to shows that are as enjoyable as any of the original pitches the network has bought and developed.
They use IP series like Alien, Fargo, Legion, and What We Do in the Shadows to also bolster and support their original series. Audiences might be drawn to the big franchise names but then will stick around for original series like The Bear, You’re The Worst, or The Americans. This a model that Disney’s other streaming platform, Disney+, seems to have forgotten as they only seem to be invested in big-name titles from franchises like Star Wars and the MCU while neglecting original properties that could become new IPs.
Supporting Its Shows
Unlike some other streaming giants, who produce original series left and right and often end up canceling them after one or two seasons, FX decided that less is more. They have curated very few but very successful shows and have allowed them to keep them running and developing across seasons, potentially gaining new viewers along the way rather than backing out after a slightly unsuccessful second season. Shows such as Archer was allowed to reach an organic ending after many years of ups and down, decided and planned by their creators, instead of being left in limbo or canceled altogether. Meanwhile, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which premiered in 2005, is still going strong on the network and appears no signs of slowing down as it has now become the longest-running live-action American sitcom.
While certain series like Y: The Last Man were canceled after one season, more often than not, FX has been known to give their series multiple seasons. Keeping a show running when it does not have as many viewers as before may seem like an illogical financial decision, FX would rather even everything out, losing a bit of money finishing shows but making certain to keep all their subscribers, how many individuals have canceled their subscription to a certain streaming service because the only reason that they purchased it in the first place is gone? FX is not risking it, and it seems to be working out.
At the end of the day, FX is just a business with the primary goal of making money for an even bigger corporation. This is important to remember because its quality programming is almost incidental to that goal. If the channel fails to create revenue, there’s a good chance it won’t continue to exist in its current form for long. However, it’s worth celebrating that, at least for the time being, their profit motives align with some of the greatest artists working right now. Even when that shift inevitably arrives, the joy that audiences have already gotten from these stories can never be erased.