FX to launch FXX spin-off channel with ‘It’s Always Sunny’ & ‘The League’

It’s official: FX is spinning itself off into a new channel called FXX, which will launch in September with four pre-existing FX series: “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “The League,” “Legit,” and “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell.”

All four shows will be migrating to the new channel, which is replacing Fox Soccer, and should be available in 74 million homes. “Sunny” and “The League” had already been renewed for these new seasons, and FX ordered additional ones for each to carry those shows through the fall of 2014. “Legit” was also renewed, despite modest ratings this winter, and “Totally Biased” will expand into a five nights a week talk show when it moves to FXX.

The quartet will be joined by one new comedy, to be determined, and the goal is to expand to six primetime comedies in 2014 and then add the channel’s own original drama series down the road.

When reports about FXX first surfaced in January, the idea seemed to be to split FX in two along genre lines: dramas for FX, comedies for FXX. But at FX’s upfront presentation for advertisers this morning (which included the renewal of “Justified” for season 5), FX president John Landgraf – who will now oversee FX, FXM (formerly the Fox Movie Channel) and FXX – said the split will be more along generational lines, with a lot of overlap. FX will still target adults 18-49, FXX 18-34 and FXM 25-54.

“They share DNA, and similar sensibilities,” Landgraf explained of the potential viewers for each channel, “but their tastes evolve and find different expressions as their lives change.”

The goal is to have FX feature 7 original dramas, a handful of limited series(*), and 4-6 original comedies. FXM will feature movies, repeats of acquired shows in the FX library like “Two and a Half Men” and “Mike & Molly,” plus at least one miniseries per quarter. Ultimately, Landgraf wants to have 25 original scripted series airing annually across the three channels, which combined would put FX close to the output of the traditional broadcast networks (who, of course, air that much on a single channel).

(*) While many miniseries are in development, the first one has been ordered, specifically for FX: “Fargo,” a 10-episode take on the Oscar-winning film, written by “The Unusuals” creator Noah Hawley, and with the Coen brothers as executive producers. This isn’t the first time anyone’s tried to adapt “Fargo” for television; Edie Falco played Marge in an unsold pilot in the late ’90s. “The series will follow a new case and new characters, all entrenched in the trademark humor, murder and ‘Minnesota nice’ that has made the film an enduring classic,” according to the press release.

Can FX pull this off without diluting what’s made the channel so special for over a decade? In describing the target audience for FX proper, Landgraf referred to a hypothetical 35-year-old who started watching the channel with “The Shield” and is at the point where they’ll at least sample any show FX premieres. FX has earned that kind of following with a very high batting average (arguably the best on television over the last 11 years), but it’s an average built on relatively few at-bats. When you start churning out more and more content – even if it’s content from producers like Howard Gordon (whose FX pilot “Tyrant” will be directed by Ang Lee), Guillermo del Toro (who has an FX vampire series in the works called “The Strain”) or Danny McBride (developing an animated comedy with his “Eastbound & Down” partners called “Chozen”) – the odds go down, even with Landgraf and a terrific development team in place. That FXX is being anchored at the start by “Always Sunny” – a comedy about to enter its ninth season, and now renewed for a tenth – already suggests that some assets are being over-extended, and I say that as someone who still quite enjoys watching Mac, Charlie and the rest of the gang.

Landgraf always comes across as one of the smartest executives in the business, as well as one of the most pragmatic. (Without the latter trait, “Terriers” might still be on the air and doing microscopic ratings.) In general, I trust that he knows the material he has to work with and that it’s enough to support this new three-headed beast. And if it means more real estate for shows that are as great and/or experimental as “Louie” or “Justified” or “The Americans,” then I’ll be a very happy TV viewer indeed.

But I just think about so many businesses in the past (not just in entertainment) that expanded because they thought they should, and struggled once they moved away from the less-is-more ethos.

What does everybody else think? Now that we have concrete details on FX vs. FXX, are you excited to have more channels, and more shows to go with them, or would you rather FX have kept chugging along on its previous course?