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NEW YORK -- In late February Howard Stem, the self-proclaimed "king of all media," held court at the Plaza Hotel here, fielding questions about his new FX series, Son of the Beach, from a room jam-packed with reporters.
At the press conference, FX president Peter Liguori gave Stern a brief introduction, then wisely stepped back to let radio's bad boy do his thing. Stern opened up his remarks about Beach by poking fun at the cable network, saying, "Like you, I have never heard of FX. I thought I was doing this for Fox [Broadcasting Co.]."
Stern then went on to laud the channel for giving him the creative freedom he demanded for Beach, the scripted comedy he was producing.
All in all, the event was a triumph in attracting publicity for FX, which has struggled during the past few years, with some false starts, to both create a distinct brand and to develop original programming reflecting that brand.
Now the network -- buoyed by strong distribution growth, ratings increases and fare like Beach -- seems to be making progress in crafting an identity
"We have gotten over the first hurdle," Liguori said. "When I look at all of our research, from a consumer end of things [ldots] clearly, we are progressing. When I gauge the reaction from our key advertisers, there is no doubt they are recognizing what FX is about[ldots] FX is the up-and-corner. It is the network of momentum, a place where younger, savvier viewers can come to see creatively courageous programming."
FX still has its critics -- those who peg it as "a rerun channel" or accuse it of being a "clone" of Comedy Central, with raunchy programming aimed at testosterone-charged young males.
Predictably, FX doesn't agree with its detractors. First of all, officials denied that they are strictly targeting young men. And overall, FX argued that its strategy is working, and that the proof is in the numbers. They include not only ratings increases, but also success in attracting the kinds of younger men and women viewers Liguori covets.
In fact, FX has been able to lower the median age of its viewer to 39 years old from 44 during the past two years.
Continuing its original-programming expansion, FX has four …