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10 FX Shows That Redefined Their Genres

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.

10. The Riches

(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.

9. 30 Days

(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.

8. Rescue Me

(2004 - current)
Genre Broken: The Cop Drama
Let's face it, firefighters haven't gotten their due on the small screen; that territory is largely dominated by the men in blue. But Rescue Me not only took on the hose-haulers, it decided that simply being another cop show disguised as a firefighter show wasn't enough. So Rescue Me scraped the bottom of the barrel, tackling heavy into alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and all sorts of other squirm-worthy issues. 
And that's just for the hero of the show.

7. Nip/Tuck

(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.

6. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

(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!

5. Sons of Anarchy

(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.

4. Justified

(2010 - current)

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.

3. Archer

(2009 - current)

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.

2. Damages

(2007 - current)

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.

1. The Shield

(2002 - 2008)

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.


Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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Awesome article. You definatly his the nail on the head, but it should be updated to add The Americans, that show is amazing! Well casted, and the story line's amazing.
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The Shield was an amazing show. It blows The Wire or any other cop drama out of the water. So well written. So is Damages. Two of my absolute favourites for sure. If they weren't numbers 1 and 2 on this list, i'd say try again.
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The Shield is very raw. A curiosity: Michael Chiklis was a very different kind of cop at The Commish.
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I LOVE LOVE sons of anarchy!! Can't wait for it to come back & i really like Justified. Thats one thing i love about FX, its got the most interesting, intelligent, unique and realistic shows on cable!. Keep it up!!
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I love Sons of Anarchy, Justified, and Archer. I watched Damages in the beginning but missed some episodes and have been out of the loop ever since. I tried to get into Nip/Tuck and The Riches, but they just didn't hold my attention.
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I love Archer, but there's no way that it is FX's funniest program. That's gotta be Always Sunny.
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Joss Weadon needs to bring back the Firefly/Serenity series on FX. Bringing his shows to the Fox Network pretty much dooms them for failure.
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Yeah! Bring back THE RICHES and also DIRT!
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I have watch both eps of Justified and love it, lots of humor. The Shield was a do not miss show in my house. Tried Archer and did not like it.
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I given FX it's dues when it comes to original program, though to be frank I've seen many of these but only really "watched" a couple. Nip/Tuck the early years who fan-freaking-tastic. Seasons 1 through 3, though different in both content and appeal, were some amazing that I the encouraged me to watch the show for two more seasons before calling it quits. Rescue Me is my favorite FX show though, in no small part to Dennis Leary not to mention the as it was put here lack of firefighter representation on tv. Put into the mix that it began not to long after 911 and it was quite a stride in terms of powerful tv.
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re: edgeofepic/Thief - Thief, as far as I know, was intended to be a BBC-esque, 6 episode mini-series. The Brits do this kind of thing ALL THE TIME (for a great recent example see "Dead Set"), and as much as I loved Thief, it made sense as a complete story with beginning, story arc, and ending.



Nip/Tuck - I used to LOVE that show when it started, and my vote was ALWAYS to rename the show "Sexsexsex". I mean, in the first few episodes you had a 15-year old talk to his "uncle" about how to conduct a threesome. And if ANYONE can find me a TV show, movie, hell even a PORN where a guy has sex with a blow-up doll, calmly explains to the person whom the blow-up doll is reproduction of that he "was just a little horny", and then SHE finds that amazing and so has sex with him... well, I would love to hear about it! But they SO gave up from the mid-point of Season 5 to the end of the series. 2 1/2 years of programming done over a few months because they were trying "get ahead" of a possible writers strike, and the two head stars just said, "Forget it, lets film the rest of the episodes now and get it over with". The show ended horribly and it makes me so sad to think about the first few seasons.



Other than that, there is simply no better network out there (or however you Americans define TV channels - network, cable, basic cable, pay cable... I can't keep track!)... or at least no better network in hollywood! The Shield, SoA, 30 Days, Rescue Me, Damages - all jaw droppingly amazing.
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I watch them all except archer....Love the shows....Next best thing to HBO...I will miss the shield, Nip/tuck, and the riches...grrrrreat television!!!
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FX should've picked up "Deadwood" ages ago...
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Actually "Thief" was FX's best show. It only lasted one season which shows that the producers valued quality over mainstream appeal. Unfortunately, the ratings weren't there so it went bye-bye.
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The Shield is good but it doesn't compare to The Wire, the show that really redefined the police procedural & the gangster drama. The Shield just seemed retardedly unrealistic by direct comparison (Though it was still really good)
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Good Shows, yet none of them can compare to Lost
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Being from Kentucky, I might give "Justified" a chance, and I watched several years of "The Shield." The rest don't interest me at all though.
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Miss them all.....especially "The Riches". Is it coming back??? If so, when??????
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Anyone calling Damages the best show on television, is beyond stupid... As someone said... best "Legal Drama".. sure.. but overall? Far from it. Go watch Breaking Bad.
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Damages is the best "Legal Drama" show ever..
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It's a shame they cancelled The Riches (so unexpectadely in the middle of a plot!) - it was a great show with amazing acting!
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I second what wordlessdan said... completely.
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I came to this page just to see if the Shield was number one. I leave satisfied.
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well, this made me want to watch those shows now. :) great article!
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Yes, FX is producing a lot of winners, keep the good work.
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I love Damages and am glad that it's on FX where t's not all watered down.
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Glad to see FX getting the praise they deserve, they really have the best scripted dramas outside of the major networks! Rescue Me and Damages are great shows but the Shield was just downright incredible, glad to see it at #1. It could get difficult to watch at times but once I was immersed in the story I was hooked until the end, and what an end it was. Haven't watched Sons of Anarchy or Justified yet but I'm sure I'll enjoy them when I do, FX shows never fail to impress me in terms of quality.
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Damages has redefined the genre of Legal Drama... i think its way way better than boston legal
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Someone's a cable tv shill. This article is worthless to me. I don't watch any of these shows.
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The Shield is number one. That is the way it needed to be.
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i'm sorry but deadwood redefined the western to an insuperable degree. Justified (in its one episode so far), has done absolutely nothing to "redefine the western"
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True words, though it may be a little early to throw Justified in the mix, let alone ahead of the SAMCRO boys and their Queen. Justified had a pretty good pilot (which should have been named Pilot) and definitely has a future, but ahead of Sons of Anarchy? Not yet.
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It should have been The Shield indeed as number one, but Rescue Me as number two as it is about million times better than the boring Damages!
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oh, you mean most overrated network. The Shield, Nip/Tuck and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia are all perfect examples of contrived television: pushing the envelope just to push the envelope. Over the top, subtle as a hammer and not very smart...
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"Sons of Anarchy" in its second season became the best drama on television. The four principal cast members Katie Sagal, Ron Pearlman, Charlie Hunnam, and Maggie Siff are the four strongest leads on any television show currently airing. (And it doesn't hurt to have the best character actors on television including the sublime Dayton Callies to round out the cast.) It is going to be painful waiting for season 3 in September. "Archer" is the funniest show on television, period. I've never seen an episode of "Family Guy" as funny as any of the first season episodes. "Its Always Sunny" shows that you don't need big names or big guest stars to make great comedy that actually makes you laugh. Thank goodness someone was smart enough to put Danny DeVito back on television in a show worthy of his comedic talent. Break out the "Kitten Mittens".
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Great news that The Shield is number one! It's my favorite of that 2000s! It makes NYPD Blue look like a Disney cartoon! Hope it comes back as a movie one day! Long live The Shield! Best cop show since Hawaii Five-0!
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Great news that The Shield is number one! It's my favorite of that 2000s! It makes NYPD Blue look like a Disney cartoon! Hope it comes back as a movie one day! Long live The Shield! Best cop show since Hawaii Five-0!
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Absolutely A+ list and a great thumbs up for FX!
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The Best show on this network is Sons Of Anarchy,hands down.How about an HBO list?
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Great list, Tim. I agree 100% with The Shield and Damages as the top two shows. The Shield had a long run and a great series finale that was not afraid to show how the choices we make in life can end in very painful results. Damages is so exciting to watch; the way they switch between the past and present is perfectly timed; season 1 was my favorite and I am hooked on this show as long as it airs. I watched the premiere of Justified, and it looks like it will fit in perfectly on FX. By the way, I have never fallen asleep while watching a FX show, but I can't say the same for the other networks.
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Sunny is gold :)
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I'm a recent fan of F, and I must say, that network has some really brilliant and unique series. The Shield and Nip/Tuck, I started off with those, and there was nothing on television that could compare. Rescue Me has been good with the Firefighters theme to it, and Damages is so brilliant! It's one of those shows you got to watch and pay attention to. HBO has been slacking with the latest seasons of True Blood and Entourage, which just seems to be aimed at the simple-minded young people who aren't into story or anything clever, just senseless and constant swearing, killing and sex. If it wasn't for The Pacific, I wouldn't be watching anything from them. Right now, FX is the best television Network there is. Glad for this list, I need to check out more of their shows.
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30 Days really needs to returns.
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sons is amazing, totally my favorite show on this list
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Yeah for The Riches and Nip/Tuck. Two series that are in my collection.
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I've always wanted to Watch "Sunny"cause i have Friends Who raved about it,this article mademe queue up the 1st two seasons inmy Netflix queue.
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I've been a fan of FX for years. I always tell people that without "The Shield" and its success, there wouldn't be a competetive basic cable enviornment with networks like TNT or AMC.



"Damages" is, so far, my favorite. Even though the ratings stink, anyone who watches one episode is hooked!
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dude i was watching the sheild and niptuck when i was a teen and man they were awesome.
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fx rules.
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Great list there, FX has been pretty damn awesome!
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