Louis CK already made history for FX with Louie, which became the first comedy on basic cable to receive a best comedy series Emmy nomination and the first FX comedy series to win an Emmy. (It has earned three so far, including two writing ones for CK). Now the veteran stand-up comedian is helping usher in another first for FX: the network’s maiden comedy pilot with a solo female lead.
At first blush, Better Things looks like a female version of Louie. It too mirrors Adlon’s life, with her playing an actress and divorced mother. But, despite the fact CK co-wrote the pilot, the two made it clear during the Louie TCA session that the series is done from woman’s point of view.
That is new for FX’s comedy brand, traditionally associated with a male perspective. FX Networks CEO John Landgraf argues that female characters are prominently featured on a number of FX comedy series. “I’d consider Judy Greer and Aya Cash and Kaitlin Olson and Katie Aselton to be every bit as much leads on FX or FXX comedies as their male counterparts on Married, You’re The Worst, It’s Always Sunny and The League,” he said. “There are certainly no male actors on those shows who are more ‘leads’ than they are.”
On the drama side, FX has a history of series with a female lead including Damages starring Glenn Close; Dirt starring Courteney Cox; and, following the first installment, American Horror Story with Jessica Lange. Additionally, the network has had a couple of shows with a couple at the center, including The Americans and The Riches, starring Keri Russell and Diane Kruger, with Allison Tolman stealing the spotlight on the first installment of Fargo.
“As you can see, we’ve been doing shows with gender-balanced casting for a long time,” Landgraf said. “We just haven’t made as many shows specifically targeted at women as the broadcast networks and TNT, USA, Lifetime, WE Bravo, E! and Oxygen do.”
Young males are FX’s strongest demographic. Still, “I’ve never considered FX to be a male brand — any more than HBO and Showtime are,” Landgraf said. “FX doesn’t skew more male in its viewership than those premium channels.”
However, both of those networks have comedies with a female lead, HBO’s Veep and Girls, which features an all-female ensemble, and Showtime’s Nurse Jackie. Even a male-focused basic cable network like Comedy Central has had female flagship comedies, like The Sarah Silverman Program and, currently, Inside Amy Schumer.
FX has had drama series that have skewed more female than male, including Damages, Nip/Tuck, AHS and Dirt. If it goes to series, Better Things may do the same on the comedy side.
But that has not been a specific goal for FX. “We’ve always intended to produce shows with all points of view — male/female, gay/straight, caucasian/black/hispanic, American/Mexican/Russian/Arab, etc,” Landgraf said. “It’s just a matter of finding shows that fit the FX brand in terms of tone.”