Notes from FX's Upfront: New (Awesome-sounding!) Shows, New Networks, a Fargo Miniseries, and More

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FX president John Landgraf touting the network's new strategy and development slate. 


You guys, I got up real early this morning to stream FX's first-ever Upfront* presentation, and I have to say it didn't disappoint. Network president John Landgraf and his team made some huge announcements, and many of them are very exciting! Some of them are also a bit weird/questionable, but the point is, we have a lot to talk about. I've organized my notes—and there are tons, so settle in—into bullet points below; take a gander, then let's hear what you think of FX's new strategy, shows, and more in the comments. 

* Does everybody know what an Upfront is? Apologies, I've lost track of the term's obscurity (or lack thereof). For the uninitiated, "the Upfronts" are a series of annual presentations that TV networks put on for advertisers. The major broadcast networks always host theirs in May, but many cable networks hold them throughout the spring. The basic idea, if you're a network executive, is to brag about your recent programming successes and tout all the cool stuff you have coming up, and the hope is that the advertisers you're bragging to will be impressed and want to purchase ad space "up front." From a TV fan's point of view, they essentially offer a first look at what's ahead. 


NEW NETWORKS!



We knew something like this was coming, but now it's official: FX Networks is dividing and multiplying into a "suite" of three channels—FX, FXX, and FXM. Landgraf said the move is designed to "avoid the 'all things to all people' pitfall that plagues broadcast TV," and that the networks "will share DNA and similar sensibilities for viewers interested in smart, cutting-edge programming." Here's the breakdown:

– Each of the three networks will focus on a different demographic. Original Recipe FX will target the gold-standard 18-49 group, FXX will attempt to woo a younger 18-34 audience, and FXM will aim for a broader 25-50 span.

– Original Recipe FX will remain the flagship property of the "FX Networks" umbrella, and it will continue to air programming in its existing content categories of comedy, drama, and movies. However, it's going to focus more on drama, increasing its tally from three to seven, and dabble in "limited series" and miniseries as well. 

– FXX replaces Fox Soccer and will debut on September 2. At the outset, FXX will focus on comedy; the idea is to launch with four original comedies and one late-night show, then expand to six original comedies and a late-night show, then eventually add some drama. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The League, and Legit—which have all been renewed for additional seasons—will all relocate to FXX, as will with Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, which will expand to five nights a week.  Those four shows plus a to-be-announced comedy will form FXX's starting lineup. 

– FXM (which technically launched about a year ago and replaced Fox Movie Channel) will carry "prestige" movies and related short-form original programming. The goal is to eventually air one original "limited series" or miniseries (I don't quite understand the difference between the two, but I'm pretty sure it has to do with episode count) each quarter. 

– The overall plan is to offer 25 original scripted series across all three channels over the next three years: "We are embarking on an incredibly ambitious ramp-up of program development and production required to sustain these networks," Landgraf said. "I'm very confident that the pilots, projects, and talent we have deals with will allow us to double our already best-in-class roster of scripted original series."

– FX's new tagline: "Fearless."



NEW SHOWS! 

The first promotional photo for The Bridge.

This is the good part: There's some seriously exciting stuff coming up! Ahem:

– We got to see the first trailer for The Bridge (which isn't yet available online; I'll post it as soon as I can find it), and it looks gritty and promising. The series, from Homeland writer Meredith Stiehm, is set to debut this July and follows two detectives on opposite sides of the U.S.-Mexico border as they work together to stop a serial killer. Diane Kruger and Demián Bichir star.

– Speaking of Homeland and people who've worked on it, Tyrant comes from Homeland producers Howard Gordon and Gideon Raff (who also created the Israeli series Homeland is based on), and follows an American family that gets caught up in chaotic Middle Eastern politics when the dictator of an Arab nation dies and his American son becomes the head of the country. The show is currently still development—pilot production begins this summer—but there's already a full writing staff working on scripts for the first season in anticipation of an official series order. Oh, and did I mention that Ang Lee, who just won an Oscar for Life of Pi, has signed on to direct the pilot?

– The Strain is that vampire drama from Guillermo Del Toro that Tim first told you about back in September (Lost's Carlton Cuse is also involved). The show is based on Del Toro's trilogy of novels, and the logline promises "a world of vampires unlike any ever depicted in television or film." The the set-up is basically this: A plane lands at JFK and all the passengers on it are dead. The CDC is called in, and all of a sudden there's a vampire virus wreaking havoc in New York City. "These bloodsuckers are not the romanticized version of vampires that have become such a cliche, but a terrifyingly original new vision," says the official press release. "And so begins a pretty awesome-sounding thriller," says me. According to Landgraf, "We think Guillermo's gonna give American Horror Story a run for its money." Like TyrantThe Strain is still in the development phase—pilot production begins in August—but there's already a full writing staff working on scripts for the first season in anticipation of an official series order.

– The Academy Award-winning film Fargo is being adapted for TV in FX's first "limited" (read: 10-episode) series; it will "follow an all-new 'true crime' story, with a new case and new characters." Writer Noah Hawley (Bones, the short-lived My Generation) penned the script and the Coen brothers (who wrote and directed the movie) will executive-produce. Production will begin in December for a spring 2014 debut on FXM.

– Because why stop at Fargo, here are FOUR more "limited series" events coming down the pike, all of them with big names attached: 

Mayflower is "an unflinching portrait of the Puritan settlers at Plymouth Colony and their uneasy alliance with the local Native Americans." Paul Giamatti (Sideways) is one of the executive producers.

Grand Hotel is set in an international luxury hotel in Paris that "turns into a hellish trap when it becomes the center of a terrorist attack." Sam Mendes (SkyfallAmerican Beauty) is one of the executive producers.

Mad Dogs is based on the British series of the same name and details "the reunion of four forty-something guys who head to Belize to visit their old school friend, when things take an unexpected and dark turn." TV.com favorite Shawn Ryan (Last Resort, TerriersThe Shield) is one of the executive producers.

Sutton, which is based the J.R. Moeringher novel of the same name, "begins on Christmas Eve 1969, when Willie “The Actor” Sutton—Irishman, lover, folk hero, and the most prolific bank robber in American history—stepped out of Attica Prison and boarded a plane for New York City, where he proceeded to take a reporter and photographer on a five-borough guided tour of his remarkable life and crimes." Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Sideways) is one of the executive producers. 

– Comedy pilots! Two were announced: The first is Chozen, an animated series from executive producer Danny McBride and the team behind Eastbound & Down. The show follows a white rapper who's recently out of prison, and the voice cast includes McBride, SNL's Bobby Moynihan, Hannibal Buress, Kathryn Hahn, Michael Pena, and Nick Swardson. The second is How & Why, from executive producer Charlie Kaufman (yes, THAT Charlie Kaufman). It's "the story of a man who can explain how and why a nuclear reactor works, but is clueless about life." 



RENEWALS AND VAGUE RETURN DATES!

Most of these are obvious/nothing new, but here they are anyway: 

Justified is officially renewed for Season 5 and will return in January 2014 (the Season 4 finale airs Tuesday).

– It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The League—which haven't yet aired their upcoming seasons—are renewed for Seasons 10 and 6, respectively, meaning they'll be on the air through fall 2014. It's Always Sunny Season 9 and The League Season 5 will both premiere this fall. 

– Freshman comedy Legit is renewed for Season 2.

– Wilfred will be back this summer for Season 3.

– It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Season 9 and The League Season 5 will debut this fall; as I mentioned above, both shows will relocate to FXX. 

– American Horror Story will return for Season 3—subtitled Coven—in October, "just in time for Halloween."

– The Americans Season 2 will premiere in January 2014. 

– Louie will likely return for Season 4 in May 2014.



FX NOW

FX is (finally!) launching its own version of HBO GO called FXNOW! Here's how it'll work: 

– FXNOW will launch this fall as an app (presumably with support desktop, tablet, and mobile). It'll be a video-on-demand service, with new FX content becoming available the day after it airs. Users can expect access to the five most recent episodes of current shows.

– Similar to HBO GO, FXNOW will be an authentication-based service, which means it'll only be available to FX subscribers whose cable providers participate in the service. You'll have to sign in using your 

– FXNOW will include access to FXM's on-demand movie library, which the network boasts is largely unavailable on competing platforms like Netflix and Amazon Instant. 

– Fast-forwarding will be disabled on all platforms. 

– I'm still unclear on how much of FX's back catalog (i.e. The ShieldTerriers, and other not-currently-airing shows), if any, will be available. Based on the mention of "the five most recent episodes," I'm not sure I'd count on having access to older stuff. 



Phew. Got all that? Let's talk...


QUESTIONS

1. What do you think of think of FX's three-network strategy? And more importantly, what do you think of the names of the three new networks and the new tagline of "Fearless"? Please feel free to suggest edits in the comments.

2. Which of the new series sounds the most appealing to you so far? 

3. How excited are you about FX Now? How skeptical are you of the fact that it won't have a fast-forward option? How many of you are actual U.S.-based FX subscribers who will use it?

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