While network television is still competing for as many eyeballs as possible, some of the cable networks are trying to resonate with viewers in other ways. Recently, FX’s research department compiled a study of the Top 10 lists from critics and determined there are three networks that stand out on “best of” lists. It shouldn’t take too many guesses to figure out which networks those are, but we’ll just tell you:
The short study yielded that HBO is in the lead in terms of critics love. The subscription cable network had the highest representation on 2014 critic top 10 lists, with 250 entries. This should be unsurprising, as HBO has long prided itself on being a network with quality shows. and currently has a lineup featuring the popular Game of Thrones, along with acclaimed shows ranging from Girls and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The network also puts together acclaimed miniseries like Olive Kitteridge.
While FX was the one compiling the data, the network came in second place, with 213 entries on critic’s lists. FX has a nice balance of shows that do fairly well in the ratings like American Horror Story and shows with smaller audiences but extremely vocal critical fanbases like The Americans. And that’s not even including the shows that were shipped off to FXX, like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. AMC came in third place with 74 mentions.
According to Adweek, FX CEO John Landgraf spoke out at the Television Critics Association press tour to talk about the network’s strategy, noting that he’s hoping the network has a bigger effect via shows that have cultural staying power rather than shows that are simply popular in the moment.
"We're not really a channel that's trying to be the highest-rated channel in television. We're trying as hard as we possibly can to be the best channel in television, whatever that means. If we weren't therefore supporting shows that would help us get there, just because [they weren't among the highest-rated], we'd be idiots."
In many ways this has paid off. American Horror Story: Freak Show broke ratings records over at FX when it premiered in October. The recently ended Sons of Anarchy was also a ratings smash at the network. Big winners like these have kept the network on the map and have allowed FX to also be the proud parent of critical winners like Fargo and The Americans, as well.
Obviously, what critics think does not matter to the average TV viewer, but it’s nice to know that the critical voice can sometimes be a key factor in keeping some little-watched gems around. It’s certainly what is keeping The Americans on the air when other under watched shows like The Bridge get their walking papers. We’re lucky to live in a TV era where ratings aren’t the only thing that matters. In a perfect world, it would always be a balance between ratings and critical acclaim, and while many networks aren't there, it seems like FX has found the line.