Be sure to check out all the TCA Coverage at Ed Martin Live at TCA
FX yesterday was surely the envy of every basic cable network when it commandeered an entire morning at the Summer 2008 Television Critics Association tour, as in breakfast at 8 a.m. and press conferences from 9 a.m. until noon.
Actually, Hallmark Channel held court with the critics for almost as long a stretch (3 ¼ hours, including a lunch) on Day One of the tour, but it did so by bringing out 24 beloved television stars of yesteryear to promote 10 movies. FX, on the other hand, got to devote all of is time to three shows, plus a Q&A with FX Networks President and General Manager John Landgraf, who currently oversees five hour-long drama series (six if he decides to renew The Riches, which is on the fence). Landgraf is also responsible for two comedy series and one documentary series (30 Days, one of television's best).
FX got this extra TCA real estate because the broadcast networks have changed their game at this tour. Traditionally, each of the Big Four broadcasters has two days in which to present its upcoming product, while The CW has one. But this year the broadcasters have mashed their cable cousins into their TCA days, in part because the threat of a strike by members of SAG compromised their tour plans, but also because they claim not to be able to afford their usual TCA extravaganzas (or so I am told). Apparently newspapers aren't the only media entities that are suddenly strapped for cash.
Hence, Fox ceded what would normally have been its second day of press conferences to a very well attended morning presentation by FX, followed by a luncheon sponsored by Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution and Telepictures on behalf of the upcoming syndicated talk show The Bonnie Hunt Show and an afternoon visit to the Los Angeles Center Studios, where Mad Men is filmed. (Tellingly, most of the critics who visited the Mad Men set wanted to live in the offices of the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency and many of the women in the group wanted unlimited access to the wardrobe department. The Summer 2008 TCA tour will forever be remembered as the official Mad Men Tour.) The day ended with a cocktail party in the penthouse of the Beverly Hilton thrown by Fancast.com (featuring celebrity guest Justin Guarini).
Getting back to FX, Landgraf started the morning with tantalizing announcements about several returning series. Michael J. Fox will be seen next season on Rescue Me in a four-episode arc as Tommy's ex-wife's boyfriend, who happens to be confined to a wheelchair. (Rescue Me will return next spring with a run of 22 original episodes.) Ted Danson will continue his critically acclaimed portrayal of evil businessman Arthur Frobisher on the second season of Damages (despite the fact that Frobisher was gunned down in cold blood in the Season 1 finale), and Marcia Gay Harden will join the cast (along with William Hurt and Timothy Olyphant, both previously announced). Season 2 will premiere in January 2009. Also in January, Season 5 of Nip/Tuck will resume with its remaining eight episodes, and there will be 19 additional episodes after that. (Nip/Tuck will end its run in 2011.) It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia will begin its fourth season on September 18. It will be paired as of October 9 with the new comedy Testees, a title Landgraf could not speak without making the critics laugh. (One critic actually asked him to spell it.) Testees is about two friends in their early 30s who make their living as medical guinea pigs.
Meanwhile, The Shield will begin its seventh and final season on September 2 and FX's newest gritty drama series, Sons of Anarchy (described by Landgraf as a "generational family drama and a crime drama set in the world of motorcycle clubs), will debut September 3. And the fate of The Riches remains undecided.
Landgraf noted that FX faces a unique challenge because it has so many successful shows. (All networks should have this problem, right?) Such successes "consume a lot of marketing," he said. They also "consume a lot of money because they get more and more expensive to produce as they go on and on." Serialized dramas, he added, "tend to get lower and lower ratings." A serialized drama will "tend to peak in ratings in its third season and then it will go down," even as costs go up.
It's a tremendous challenge," he continued. "But one of the reasons you see us announcing the end of The Shield well in advance of The Shield's end and announcing now that Nip/Tuck is going to end in three years is we're publicly challenging ourselves and saying we're not going to wait until the light is blinking red. We're going to plan for the orderly and dignified ending of great shows and we're going to launch great new shows at the same time, and we're going to get the new shows on the air before the shows that have been the great shows as part of our brand are over."
To communicate with or to be contacted by the executives and/or companies mentioned in this column, link to the JackMyers Connection Hotline.