There are few networks that can readily be counted on for consistent programming: Major networks have no problem latching on to whatever is hot, most of basic cable has become too niche-y (another cake show?), and premium cable isn't the sure thing it used to be. But over at FX, the network has changed from its early days of one long magazine-style show to a clear trendsetter simply by bucking trends. Whenever FX announces a new program, there's a feeling that it's going to be of a certain quality—and unlike anything else you see on television.
We asked FX president and general manager John Landgraf what the network looks for in a show when it's shopping for new material. "Something that's not on television," he told us. "Something specific, distinctive, and original. If it's a drama, something wildly entertaining with great characters, but it also has to be ambitious. If it's a comedy, something with great characters that's also laugh-out-loud funny."
It's a philosophy that's worked for FX: The network's shows, be they comedies or dramas, are risky endeavors, but the result is programming with a very distinct feel (see: last night's premiere of Justified). Here are the 10 best shows from FX's library and how they transformed typical fare into something wholly original.
(2007 - 2008)
Genre Broken: Family Drama
There's nothing that original about a family trying to make it in this world, but FX put a spin on the standard family drama by making its show about a clan of gypsy-like nomads. A clan of gypsy-like nomads who are con artists. And they stumble upon a vacant house in an affluent neighborhood and assume the identities of the homeowners, who they just happened to kill in a car crash. Not your typical primetime programming.
(2005 - 2008)
Genre Broken: The Reality Social Experiment
Most reality shows that call themselves "social experiments" milk a premise for a whole season, saying "wouldn't it be fun if [person A] and [person B] switch roles and we filmed it?" FX hired Morgan Spurlock, the man who daringly subjected himself to eating nothing but McDonald's for a month in Super Size Me, and the result was 30 Days. Subjects were totally immersed in a strange lifestyle for 30 days (i.e. a conservative Christian lived in San Francisco's gay-friendly Castro district) and the results were eye-opening. Elsewhere on the airwaves, The Bachelor and its tales of fake love still plague our eyeballs.
(2003 - 2010)
Genre Broken: The Medical Drama
Dashing doctors, life-and-death situations, saving a kid with cancer... Nip/Tuck wants nothing to do with that horse crap. Instead, creator Ryan Murphy decided to take two vain plastic surgeons, send them to Miami, and let them bang their patients and anything else that moved. The result was one of the most shocking television shows ever to air on basic cable; it's a must-see for all you sick fetishists out there.
(2005 - current)
Genre Broken: The Sitcom
Here's how a typical sitcom is developed: Find a star, come up with a silly premise, let the cameras roll. How did It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia get started? Three unknowns shot a pilot on a camcorder for a rumored $200 (although it was probably less) and shopped it around, at which point FX grabbed it. The show has since emerged from its initial cult status and become a huge hit among the major 18-34 demographic. With its crass humor, awkward situations, and taboo subjects, it's right at home on FX. And huffing glue is cool again!
(2008 - current)
Genre Broken: Shakespearean Family Drama
William Shakespeare never wrote "And Romeo rodeth on a chopper to his fair lady Juliet," but of all the shows that have mimicked The Bard's tales, we think he would be especially revved up for Sons of Anarchy. More than just a show about a bunch of beer-swilling sweathogs who ride Harleys, SoA' "Hamlet on wheels" story runs over familial power struggles like few other shows have.
Genre Broken: The Western
FX's latest entry features a U.S. Marshal patrolling rural Kentucky—but instead of being set in in the late 1800s, Justified takes place today. The rules of the Wild West, however, remain largely the same. And instead of mustachioed bank robbers galloping away on steeds, the bad guys fire rocket launchers at marijuana-worshipping churches and speed off in their SUVs. Oh, and they're Nazi-supporting rednecks.
Genre Broken: The Adult Cartoon
The resurgence of cartoons for mature audiences peaked during the heyday of Adult Swim. Or so we thought. While those programs were largely eye-candy for red-eyed stoners, Archer appeals to anyone with a twisted sense of humor (though I've heard pot certainly doesn't hurt). It's hard to believe that creator Adam Reed (Sealab 2021, Frisky Dingo) actually toned it down for Archer, but the result is his best work yet and FX's funniest program, live or drawn.
Genre Broken: The Legal Drama
It's been called the best show on television more than once, and with good reason. While a typical lawyer show climaxes in a courtroom, Damages—now in its third season—has only had a few minutes of courtroom drama. Because Damages is a show about power and the lengths people will go to in order to get it. Adding to the show's uniqueness, Damages boasts a fragmented storytelling structure and more twists than a Chubby Checker album. And we can never say enough about its amazing cast.
Genre Broken: The Cop Show
The first of FX's major breakthroughs, The Shield didn't subscribe to the idea of blindly praising the police force, and why should it have? Corruption among cops had been all over the newspapers for decades. The Shield burst onto the scene with one of the best pilots in recent memory, and showed not only that cops could be crooked, but that corruption had deep roots and was sometimes tolerated, too. It made us scared to call 911, for fear that Vic Mackey might show up.