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FX shakes up the cable landscape

What does the television network FX have in common with Czechoslovakia? If Internet rumors are to be believed, then this November, Fox plans to split its cable channel apart into two. The original FX will continue to focus on its slate of excellent dramas while the Fox Soccer channel will be rebranded to focus on comedy programs.

This promising new channel, hereby referred to as FXX – because creativity is dead in Hollywood – may appear on Internet listings as soon as this November.

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The story of FX is the story of what happens when a network evolves in two separate directions, but continues to exist as one unified brand. In the blue corner we have dramas: the family drama and biker rage of “Sons of Anarchy,” the loosely focused lunacy of “American Horror Story” and the Timothy-Olyphantine law drama “Justified.”

In the red corner, we have FX’s eclectic collection of comedies. There’s the consistently brilliant animated spy satire of “Archer.” The universally appreciated “Louie” gets to take a well-deserved break this year, while “Wilfred,” “The League,” and new-show-on-the-schedule “Legit” keep viewers entertained.

FX is also a network where comedians like Russell Brand and W. Kamau Bell are allowed to host their own variety comedy shows. In a third corner, we have broadcasts of the Ultimate Fighting Championship – making this extended boxing analogy particularly relevant.

What would these new networks look like? Well, FX only has three dramas currently, with “The Americans” set to premiere in a few weeks. No other show this midseason is as exciting to this critic as “The Americans,” a spy drama focusing on KGB sleeper agents as they plant themselves in America.

And FX has a history of knocking concept dramas out of the park: look at “The Shield,” “Nip/Tuck” and “Rescue Me” to see what may happen. It stands to reason that sports programming would be kept on the original network, although FX does have several dramas in development to take up any empty programming spots.

The comedy slate of FXX will be more likely to undergo a major change. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” just completed its eighth season, making it FX’s longest running original comedy still on the air. As wonderful as “Sunny” is, it will not and cannot last forever.

Due to Charlie Sheen’s revolutionary star-producer contract with FX, “Anger Management” has another 90 episodes commissioned in what may very well be the greatest bait-and-switch in television history. “Archer’s” fourth season premiere contained one of the most brilliant moments in television history this decade, playing off of the shared voice actor H. Jon Benjamin, with an opening that insinuated that Bob from “Bob’s Burgers” was really Sterling Archer with amnesia.

But FXX has a trick up its sleeve. By using shortened seasons – FX comedies normally make twelve or so episodes compared to the twenty-plus on network television – characters and situations are not overexposed. If these shows can keep up their quality – or cocaine-fueled idiocy in the case of “Management” – there is no reason that these shows can’t last for another ten seasons.

This is a watershed moment for Fox extended. Splitting the network in two will solve the network’s internal struggle sooner, allowing the networks more time to develop their individual identities. Turner Broadcasting has already proven the benefit of offering two basic cable channels devoted to comedy and drama with their TBS and TNT networks, also known colloquially as the Tyler Perry and “Law and Order” channels.

In fact, the Jekyll-and-Hyde complex exhibited by modern FX is probably more developed than “Do No Harm,” NBC’s upcoming take on the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novella. But I’ll reserve judgment on that until it premieres after this Thursday’s finale of “30 Rock.” This just leaves us with two final questions: how long until the inevitable FXXX porn channel? And will FX or FXX have the movies?

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