What's Next for FX, Now That Justified and Sons of Anarchy Are Gone?

Like most everything in the television industry, the success of any given network is never guaranteed, and often cyclical. All the major American broadcasters have had their runs at the top of the mountain and a few ugly nadirs, and the story is just the same on cable (even HBO hit a rough patch after The Sopranos ended). Of course, these ups and downs occur for a number of different reasons—a couple of big hits here, a surprising failure there, shifting trends—but sometimes, you can see potential turbulence coming in the distance.

Enter FX, home of such past and present TV.com favorites as Justified, The Americans, Fargo, Louie, among so many more. While there's no need to panic just yet, it's time to take a close look at the network future, which is currently a little murky.


In this TV season alone, FX has said goodbye to its two most senior drama series, Sons of Anarchy and Justified. The former was a smash hit for the network—the final season was the highest-rated stretch in the history of FX—and the latter, while not a ratings juggernaut even by cable standards, consistently scored critical acclaim and relevant awards attention (though not nearly as much as it deserved). Sons of Anarchy and Justified filled Tuesdays with appointment television in both the fall and spring for a very long time, and now they're gone.

Elsewhere in the last year or so, FX (and its kid brother FXX) said goodbye to Wilfred and The Bridge and announced that the upcoming seventh season of The League will be the fantasy football comedy's last. Ratings performances aside, that's five shows off the schedule. And since cable networks don't air as much original content as the broadcast networks do, the departure of five series in one calendar year can significantly impact their overall depth. That's especially true for FX, which is now spreading its programming across both the original network and the still-growing FXX.

When you start to take a gander at what FX has left, the recent and upcoming departures become even more interesting. Fargo's first season was about as dope as TV gets and the cast for Season 2 is wild, but there are no guarantee that it will become a lasting franchise for the network. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is holding court on FXX and headed into Season 11 with a twelfth guaranteed, but after that, how much longer can the Paddy's Pub gang keep yelling? Archer is no longer a spring chicken. Suddenly, Louie and American Horror Story are a half-decade into their runs, with a substantial overhaul in the cards for AHS this fall as it continues without Jessica Lange. The Strain and Tyrant are big swings that didn't quite gel in their respective first seasons. You're the Worst, Man Seeking Woman, and The Americans are beloved, but far from major hits. The Comedians might become a ratings success, but it's terrible. And the 10-90 deals that resulted in so many episodes of Anger Management seem to have died out before we were terrorized by more Saint George or Partners.

Without Justified and Sons of Anarchy, FX's programming slate is full of question marks (some of them more intriguing than others), aging offerings, and a weird mix of good shows with bad ratings and bad shows with solid ratings. While it's not like there's nothing of value here, and while the network and its head honcho John Landgraf planned for the respective ends of Sons of Anarchy and Justified a little more successfully than AMC did with Breaking Bad and Mad Men, the details of said planning illustrate a smart but potentially misguided strategy for the future.


For many of the shows listed above, you can picture FX's logic during the development stage. Some of them are clearly responses to industry-wide trends, something networks do all the time. Ahem: The network clearly hoped The Strain would be its version of The Walking Dead. Reuniting all the people who helped create Homeland—an award-winning hit—for Tyrant seemed like an obvious move. Married exists because every cable network is seemingly contractually obligated to produce a show about unhappy, white, married people.

Even more of these shows signal that FX believed it could follow up its success by repeating what's worked in the past. The network played a significant role in revitalizing the ongoing anthology series with American Horror Story, so here comes Fargo. Graham Yost does amazing stuff with Justified; why not let him play godfather to another show, The Americans? And hey, viewers enjoy the semi-autobiographical exploration of the life of one comedian on Louie, and thus, how about a mockumentary-style look at the life two comedians, right?

A peak at FX's programming queue hammers this point home further. Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll comes from Denis Leary, star of one of the network's longest-running past shows, the post-9/11 firefighter drama Rescue Me. The Bastard Executioner is a new period drama from Sons of Anarchy's Kurt Sutter. American Crime Story is another anthology from Ryan Murphy & Co. Baskets is an upcoming clown comedy co-created by Louis C.K. Louie's Pamela Adlon and Married's Jenny Slate have their own pilots in development. And FX has really made a push into the miniseries arena, with potential projects about the Mayflower, the Inca Empire, and Vietnam, among others, all in the works.

Again, on the surface, these aren't bad decisions or even uncommon ones. We could look back even further and note that Sutter parlayed his work on FX's most notable drama, The Shield, into Sons of Anarchy, or that Ryan Murphy helped put the network on the map long before American Horror Story with Nip/Tuck. Clearly, FX wants to keep great people in its fold, and that's cool. But it's possible there's a point where employing so many of the same creative folks across multiple projects becomes less effective, especially with regard to people like Sutter and Murphy, who take massive swings, but sometimes wiff.

Similarly, building a schedule full of event-style programming is a great strategy, especially in the shadow of American Horror Story, Fargo, and big hits on other networks like True Detective or even the less buzzy but still successful Klondike. In the past couple years, we've seen that this kind of programming brings in talent that might not otherwise want to work on television. Yet, just like allowing the same people to manage multiple shows, there's a danger of reaching some kind of saturation point with centering a lineup on large, presumably expensive event series. FX has several in development now, and maybe they all don't make it to air, but will they eventually cease to feel like actual events when they're so prominent on the schedule?


It's funny what a few hits—or even relative "hits"—will do to a schedule. When you've got tentpoles like Sons of Anarchy and Justified, it's easier to let The Americans and Louie do their thing, ratings be damned. It's also a little easier to dedicate significant resources to big event programming that can fill the space between sturdy, recognizable series. With Sons of Anarchy and Justified out of the picture, FX is perhaps feeling a little urgency to find something to replace them. And it appears the network is hoping that sticking with what and who it knows will ensure those replacements arrive sooner rather than later.

It's worth mentioning that the newer projects I mentioned above aren't the only ones FX has in development. There's also Donald Glover's rap comedy Atlanta (yes please) and a small-screen version of From Hell (no thanks), plus there's a deal in place to air BBC One's period drama Taboo, from Ridley Scott and Tom Hardy (cool enough). As with anything, some of these upcoming series will turn out to be hits, and some will fail miserably. But FX has had a wonderful run that really started back with The Shield and while it's nowhere near a danger zone, the next couple of years will be crucial in determining whether the network can maintain that wonderful run, or whether it will experience a bit of the lull that grabs hold of all networks every once in a while.

Without Sons of Anarchy and Justified in the mix, does FX still have shows you like? And do any of the network's upcoming projects excite you?