Stephen Falk wasn't sure how to react when he got the news that his critically acclaimed but low-rated FX sitcom, You're the Worst, would move to FXX for Season 2. "When I first heard, I was a little like, is this being demoted to triple-A ball?" recalled Falk, the show's creator and executive producer.
After all, FX's younger-skewing sibling—which launched two years ago from the former Fox Soccer network—went through its share of growing pains before it began airing Simpsons repeats last August (starting with the "Every Simpsons Ever" mega-marathon), after landing exclusive cable, VOD and non-linear rights to the show.
The Simpsons helped save the network, which had ranked 93rd in adults ages 18-49 when FXX first took it over. It was in 29th place as of Aug. 16, up from 46th at the same time last year.
That success has accelerated FXX's expansion plans and necessitated You're the Worst's network shift (Season 2 debuts tonight alongside The League, which also started at FX before moving to FXX two years ago). FXX will soon take in another FX import—animated comedy hit Archer. And the show's upcoming seventh season will help launch new animated comedy Cassius and Clay.
"The team over there explained to me that FXX was really important to them. They had basically hit a rating threshold that they assumed they'd be at maybe four years down the line in their timeline after the Simpsons thing, in the first year. So they had to accelerate everything and start really building it a little more aggressively," said Falk.
Sacrificing ad revenue to define the brand
While FX Networks CEO John Landgraf had expected FXX to jump up to at least the 50s among adults 18-49, "we thought it was going to be a really hard slog to get it from there up into the 30s," he said. "And essentially [since] the day we put the Simpsons on the channel, it's been in the top 30. We thought we'd get there, but we thought we'd get there two or three years after we got there."
Given that rapid ratings boost, "what you want to do in this business when you have a winning streak is press your advantage. So we did," said Landgraf of reassigning You're the Worst. "We did move things over sooner than we otherwise might have. And I'm glad we did because ultimately I think that there was at least some skepticism when we launched the channel that it was just a cynical attempt to just spread the programming out and there wasn't enough reason in terms of unique identity to really have these channels. And I think the only way to answer that skepticism is by investing money and putting programming there and defining the brand."
Even if that means sacrificing ad revenue in the short-term. "It's cost us money in advertising, to move programming from FX to FXX, because we're going to earn less money and have lower ratings," said Landgraf. "But we've done it because we wanted to build that brand."
While initially skeptical, Falk now sees two major benefits of his show's new home: "One is that it's a vote of confidence, in having us be one of the flagship original shows there, that they hope would start to define the network," he said. But more importantly, it takes a lot of pressure off the show's performance. "Practically speaking, it lowered our ratings threshold for making the network happy," said Falk.
FXX is currently available in 77.94 million homes (Landgraf predicts that number will increase by up to 7 million in the next two years), while FX is in 93.2 million homes. "So we're not going to have the same numbers, and that's good for a show like mine that's a little more niche," said Falk, who hasn't approached this season any differently for FXX than he did for Season 1 on FX. "Nothing has changed."
That will be the same case for Archer when it makes its own move. "I think if you just started from scratch and you're just going to put Archer on the air, and FXX and FX were both mature channels with comparable distribution, FXX is where Archer belongs," said Landgraf. "The reason it didn't go there is because it was working really well on FX. We had a lot we had to achieve with it from a business standpoint, both from an advertising standpoint and syndication and other things for our profit participants."
But now the time was right, especially as Landgraf was looking to build an audience for Cassius and Clay. "I don't want to launch it on FX and then move it to FXX," he said of the new series. "So they should be together. If I move Archer, then I can launch it on that channel and can have something to launch it with."
Now that much of FXX's heavy lifting is done, Landgraf expects less show swapping between the two networks. "While there still could be some shows that shuffle between one or the other, maybe there will always be, I don't think it's going to be a mass migration the way it has been in the past," he said.
That said, Landgraf still has plenty of work ahead as he shores up FXX's brand identity. "We're still only halfway there," he said.