PASADENA, Calif. -- On its surface, the addition of another fringe-y specialty cable channel should, in no way, be a big-TV-watching deal.
But the announcement this week by Rogers Media that it is adding a Canadian version of FXX -- a younger-skewing companion network to FX Canada -- to this country's specialty-cable roster (on April 1, with a free preview continuing until June 30) is rather significant. It solidifies the Canadian media giant's relationship with what has quickly become one of U.S. television's most important, productive and successful creators of scripted-TV programming.
And by extending its partnership with the FX network brand, Rogers has guaranteed that its Canadian-version channels will mirror their American cousins by becoming destinations for TV viewers seeking to follow -- on whatever delivery platform they choose -- many of the most interesting and most talked-about scripted series on the tube.
Beginning with its launch of The Shield in 2002, the Fox-owned FX network (which had actually been around since the mid-'90s as a niche channel carrying third-run movies and reruns of old TV series) made a bold move into the programming game, assembling a roster of scripted-series titles that by 2007 included the likes of Nip/Tuck, Rescue Me, The Riches, Damages and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
It was a game-changing move for an ad-supported U.S. cable channel; prior to FX's strategic shift toward original-program creation, the only place outside the traditional broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, the CW) where noteworthy scripted dramas and comedies were being created was on premium pay-TV outlets such as HBO and Showtime.
In its second half-decade as a creator of original programming, FX -- under the leadership of president and general manager John Landgraf, one of the most astute and aggressive executives in the TV business -- has ramped up its scripted-show production, adding such titles as Justified, Sons of Anarchy, Archer, The League, Louie, Terriers, The Americans, American Horror Story and, in coming months, new entries such as the shot-in-Calgary drama Fargo and the Middle Eastern political family thriller Tyrant.
FX's move redefined the business model for what Stateside consumers of television refer to as "basic cable" channels, and soon enough, other ad-supported cable outlets began to follow suit. And TV-watchers on both sides of the border reaped the benefits.
It can fairly be argued that FX's success with The Shield, and its subsequent demonstration that ad-supported cable channels can profitably be producers of original programming, are directly responsible for the existence other impressive basic-cable rosters, such as AMC's stable of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Hell on Wheels.
When Rogers first launched FX Canada in 2011 (it was almost a full year later that the channel became available to most Winnipeg cable customers), what it offered was a slightly diminished version of the brand, as the Canadian rights to several high-profile FX titles -- most notably Justified and Sons of Anarchy -- were held by other specialty channels.
But as those mature series move toward their conclusions (Justified will end in 2015, after its sixth season), FX Canada and its new sibling, FXX, will become the sole homes of FX-branded content north of the border.
It will, in very short order, prove to have been a very shrewd move by Rogers.
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And speaking of Fargo, the new FX-network series inspired by the 1996 Coen brothers cult classic, there's every indication that this offbeat drama that almost called Winnipeg home is going to be a very special TV series.
Set to premiere in April, Fargo -- which stars Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks, Kate Walsh and Allison Tolman, and boasts a supporting cast that includes Bob Odenkirk, Adam Goldberg and Oliver Platt -- is a 10-part series that has no connection to the feature film's storyline or characters but quite successfully re-creates the odd sense of place and dark, character-driven drama of the big-screen original.
The pilot was shown to TV critics here during FX's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles, and it's very, very good.
Winnipeg was in the running to be the shooting location for Fargo, but in the end, a few logistical factors -- most notably the availability of direct flights to and from Los Angeles (all L.A.-bound flights from Winnipeg require a connection in another city) -- led the series' producers to choose Alberta rather than Manitoba.
"We really loved Winnipeg, and Winnipeg worked very hard to try to convince us to shoot there," Fargo's executive producer, Warren Littlefield, told the Free Press this week. "I would love to be able to do something there in the future.
"But until Winnipeg can figure out a way to deal with (the lack of direct flights), that will always be an issue."
Interestingly, while Winnipeg did not ultimately get Fargo, Fargo maintains a strong Winnipeg connection as it continues filming in and around Calgary. Despite opting for the Alberta location, the series' U.S. producers chose to retain the services of Kim Todd (Original Pictures), whom they met while scouting Manitoba as a potential location, as their on-the-ground producer for the Canadian shoot.
"We were very impressed, by both her right-brain and her left-brain thinking," Littlefield said. "She was willing to come to Calgary to work with us, and we're very glad to have her with us there."
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