FX Shifts Primetime Focus to Movies From Series

After several failed scheduling changes intended to boost ratings, FX will move its high-profile off-network series out of primetime in favor of acquired movies, beginning this summer.

The new lineup will feature older, non-cable premiere titles from the FX library, as well as films from a recently acquired package that generated nearly $3 billion in box-office revenue, officials said.

It's unclear where FX will reschedule its expensive trio of acquired shows —Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ally McBeal
and The Practice. But none will air in primetime, as the general-entertainment network looks to maintain its recent ratings momentum with a lineup of films.

The movies would most likely run daily from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., followed by either FX originals such as the controversial The Shield, or other acquired series.

FX president Peter Ligouri said the network has experimented with primetime movies since last November, when it instituted a Friday-night film franchise to replace The Practice.

On March 12, the network premiered a Tuesday night movie as a lead-in to The Shield,
to ratings success. Since then, the Tuesday-night movie has averaged a 1.4 rating — more than double the rating The Practice
earned in the time slot, according to Ligouri.

FX has been garnering similar ratings for its Friday and Sunday night movie runs, as part of an overall resurgence: Its April 2002 0.9 primetime household average was up 13 percent from the prior year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

"We put movies on Fridays and they're averaging a 0.85 to a 0.9 rating, very solid numbers versus The Practice's numbers during the period, while our Sunday night movies average a 1 rating," Ligouri said.

Ideally, Ligouri believes the new format could net the service an average of 1.0, while augmenting share in its target 18-to-49 demographic.

"When you look at presenting good movies consistently in a specific time slot five to seven nights a week, it only make sense that those ratings are only going to increase," he said.

To date, the films that have generated the strongest ratings are popular titles that have run either on FX or various other services in the past — like True Lies, which generated a 2.6 rating on March 12,
and Broken Arrow,
which drew a 1.7 on Jan. 20.

FX will complement its extensive movie library with several film packages acquired over the past three years from Warner Bros., The Walt Disney Co., and Twentieth Century-Fox. Some of the titles expected to air on the network include: The Pelican Brief, The Insider, Mrs. Doubtfire, Independence Day,
Starship Troopers, The Bodyguard, Conspiracy Theory
and L.A. Confidential.
"Given the current ratings for movies combined with what is a re-fortified movie inventory, it makes sense to go to a movie [primetime] schedule," Ligouri said.

The scheduling shift all but brands FX's three high-profile, costly series acquisitions as a major disappointment.

Through May 1, Ally
— which was shifted from its original 8 p.m. time slot in November, owing to poor performance — averaged a 0.4 rating at 11 p.m. The Practice
generated a 0.5 at 9 p.m., while Buffy
averaged a respectable 0.94 rating in the 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. slot.

Ligouri said he wants to see what competing networks have planned before rescheduling the series.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.