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The Many Faces of FX

A rundown of some of FX's greatest hits.

Graham Flashner
  • The Shield

  • Nip/Tuck

  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

  • Sons of Anarchy

  • Louie

From the begining, FX has aimed to change the face of basic cable. Some of their game-changing shows:


The Shield

Premiered: March 12,2002

Created By: Shawn Ryan

Stars: Michael Chiklis, Walton Goggins, CCH Pounder, Benito Martinez, Jay Karnes, Kenneth Johnson, Catherine Dent, Michael Jace, Cathy Cahlin Ryan, David Rees Snell, Glenn Close, Forest Whitaker

IT'S ABOUT: The Strike Team, an anti-drug unit operating inside the LAPD but outside the rules.

INSIDE DISH: Shawn Ryan wrote the pilot while under contract to the WB show Angel. "In my mind, there was zero audience for this," he says. "I hoped it would be a good enough writing sample so that, if I got fired off Angel, I could get another job."

Once the pilot sold, Angel creator-executive producer David Greenwald graciously let Ryan out of his contract. "If he hadn't, The Shield never would've been made," Ryan says.

IMPACT: The show transformed FX from an anonymous niche cable channel into a bona-fide HBO challenger. Spotlighting the most charismatic, seriously flawed TV protagonist since a certain New Jersey mob boss, The Shield was The Sopranos of cop shows.

ICONIC MOMENT: Detective Vic Mackey shoots his partner dead in the last scene of the pilot. When he first read the scene, Michael Chiklis threw the script across the room. "It jolted me," he recalls. "I yelled to my wife, 'I have to do this!1"

Says Ryan: "Had I known the series was going to go as long as it did, I might've [held off on that plot point] till the middle of season one.... We took that moment very seriously over the next seven seasons— it's the original sin that comes back to haunt Vic and his team over the years."

Nip/Tuck

Premiered: July 22,2003

Created By: Ryan Murphy

Stars: Dylan Walsh, Julian McMahon, Joely Richardson, John Hensley, Roma Maffia, Kelly Carlson

IT'S ABOUT: The narcissistic Miami skin culture, as seen through the eyes of two jaded plastic surgeons.

INSIDE DISH: While the show is justifiably famous for its plastic surgery porn, Murphy says FX bought a show that, pardon the pun, cut much deeper.

"I told them I wanted to do a show about a love affair between two men that was not sexual, a show about the lasting bonds of male friendship," he says. "They look beyond the obvious to something that can be more personal to you.... And because they saw that I was passionate, they banked on me. They let me direct the pilot, even though I hadn't done it before. They trusted my vision."

IMPACT: It built on the momentum generated by The Shield and proved that FX was in the original scripted programming game for keeps. It riotously turned the medical genre inside out, with a heady mix of dark comedy and outrageous incidents inspired by true-life cases.

ICONIC MOMENT: The show's premise becomes crystal clear early in episode one, when Dr. Christian Troy (McMahon) dissects the physical laws of a hot aspiring model he's just bedded.

With brutal candor, he rates her an eight out of ten, and the former homecoming queen is crushed. "I don't want to be pretty — I want to be perfect," she says.

Troy later says, "When you stop striving for perfection, you might as well be dead."

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Premiered: August 4,2005

Created By: Rob McElhenney

Stars: McElhenney, Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, Kaitlin Olson, Danny DeVito

IT'S ABOUT: A group of friends who run a dilapidated Irish bar in south Philadelphia, not very successfully.

INSIDE DISH: The story of Sunny's no-frills, no-budget beginning is TV legend. The pilot was reshot on a (very thin) FX dime with high-end consumer cameras.

The cast shared a single trailer. There were no sets, music was licensed from a library — "cheesy mood music from the '60s", says FX honcho John Landgraf — and episodes were shot in an unthinkable three-and-a-half days.

"It had a lo-fi aesthetic appeal, in keeping with its intent to deconstruct the sitcom," Landgraf says.

IMPACT: The show legitimized comedy on FX. It was the first basic-cable series sold into syndication (FX's Archer recently became the second) and the first produced in-house by the newly created FX Productions. A version of the show has even been made in Russia.

In its third season, Sunny gained a wide college audience after airing on Hulu, and the DVD sales have been extremely profitable.

"It's proven itself in every market to be vastly stronger than anyone expected," according to Landgraf.

ICONIC MOMENT: The Christmas party scene in which Frank Reynolds (DeVito) claws his way out of a black leather couch where he's been hiding — and tumbles out buck naked, gasping for air.

"That's probably the moment I hear the most about," McElhenney says. "It showed that Danny is up for anything and just does not give a shit."

Sons of Anarchy

Premiered: September 3,2008 Created by: Kurt Sutter

Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Ron Perlman, Maggie Siff, Kim Coates, Mark Boone Junior, Tommy Flanagan, Theo Rossi, Ryan Hurst, Dayton Callie, Jimmy Smits, David Labrava, Drea de Matteo, Nico

IT'S ABOUT: The saga of SAMCRO, a fictional SoCal outlaw motorcycle club. Fans affectionately dubbed the show "Hamlet on Harleys."

"It's no secret that Kurt borrowed from Shakespeare," Landgraf says. "A young man trying to make his way in the world comes to understand the brutal wiles of power... not realizing he'd been betrayed by his mother, stepfather and father in the most profound ways."

INSIDE DISH: When Kurt Sutter created uber-matriarch Gemma Meadow, Sagal — his wife — jumped at the opportunity to take on a dramatic role. "I had never played anyone in that outlaw world," she says.

IMPACT: FX's most popular show humanized a subculture that had never been explored dramatically on television.

"There's an old quote: 'Good people only dream of doing what bad people do,'" Landgraf says. "We pay our taxes, we don't kill anybody, we don't live on the fringe — but there's something fascinating about following people who do, a la Walter White and Tony Soprano."

ICONIC MOMENT: Gemma brutally murders her daughter-in-law, Tara (Maggie Siff), mistakenly believing she's sold her son out to the Feds.

"We're seeing her own conscience grabbing her," Sagal says. "The killing wasn't premeditated, but she really believed that Tara had turned the entire club in."  Of course, Gemma was misinformed, and she paid the ultimate price for it.

Louie

Premiered: June 29,2010

Created By: Louis C.K.

Star: Louis C.K.

IT'S ABOUT: Louie’s life as a divorced comic living in New York City with two daughters.

INSIDE DISH: Louis C.K. accepted a reduced up-front and per-episode fee from FX in exchange for complete creative autonomy. With his background making shorts and indie features, he knew he could pull it off.

"The more money you ask for, the more you have to be accountable for," he says. "The budget for the pilot was S200K... if I had turned in a shitty pilot, no one would've blamed John [Landgraf]."

As a one-man band who writes, directs, stars and even co-edits, Louis C.K. isn't subject to script or casting approval, and he gets no notes during filming.

"I don't even see outlines or scripts," confirms Landgraf, who only gives feedback on the cuts. Apart from that, he says, "Soup to nuts — he makes it, we put it on the air."

IMPACT: The show's shapeless plotting, stand-up comedy riffs, jazz score and disdain for continuity make it look and sound like no other comedy on television.

"Viewers don't need all the hand-holding," Louis C.K. observes. "They're happy to be stimulated by being behind the eight ball with a story."

ICONIC MOMENT: In a poignant and characteristically uncomfortable 2014 scene that Forbes magazine called "the year's most brutally honest seven minutes of television," an overweight woman (Sarah Baker) confronts Louie about his discomfort with "dating a fat girl."

"It's the last accepted prejudice," says Louis C.K. "People who aren't attractive, they're shunned completely. I thought it was a worthwhile conversation to have.