Changing networks can be a perilous proposition for shows, as Community discovered when its move to Yahoo Screen became the TV version of entering the witness protection program. But last season, the comedy You're the Worst shifted from FX to FXX, to help that network solidify its identity, and got even better. Last season, which featured Aya Cash's Gretchen Cutler coping with depression, ended up as one of 2015's best shows.
The series, about two awful people (Chris Geere's Jimmy Shive-Overly and Aya Cash's Gretchen Cutler) who somehow make a terrific couple, hasn't lost a step in Season 3, which premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. Creator and executive producer Stephen Falk spoke with Adweek about his initial FXX worries, his continued search for integrations and why comedy is so much harder than drama.
Adweek: Looking back, how worried were you about moving from FX to FXX last season?
Stephen Falk: I liked the idea that the ratings bar was lower for us because I don't think we're ever going to be a rating juggernaut, regardless of what network we're on. But yeah, I was a little worried that the perception was going to be that it was a demotion. [But] they assured me, and I pretty much believed them 98 percent, that they're working hard to find that thing where you think, "Oh, FXX, that's the one with that show and that show and that show." With The Simpsons and [It's Always] Sunny [in Philadelphia] and us and the new shows, they're hoping that we can help to make that the brand's identity. Right now, there's massive value in being the face of a cable network or a new cable network. I think a lot of shows, ours included, exist at least partly because we provided that. For that, I'm very happy.
The first two seasons are now on Hulu. Do you hear from anybody at FX or the studio about what the Hulu response has been to the show?
Not from them. I do hear directly from people who finally watch it on Hulu, who are tweeting at us or writing to me on my personal website. More people are watching the show and binging the show, which is fantastic.
Is that feedback concentrated around when a new season comes out on Hulu, or do people stumble upon the show on Hulu all year?
It probably is a concentration at the beginning, but certainly there's a constant trickle. I know a lot less about the Hulu algorithm than I do about Netflix, which I know very little about also, so I'm not sure how our show is platformed on Hulu. When I look for it on Hulu, even I don't know how to find it. I just have to type it in! [laughs]
There's a Hulu reference early in the new season of You're the Worst. Is that a shout-out to your SVOD partner?
We did? Oh, yes. I literally did not even think of that until this moment.
At the TCA summer press tour, FOX and NBC execs were making the case that there's more urgency among viewers to watch dramas more than comedies, which makes it harder to monetize comedies, since so many people watch them outside the seven-day C7 window. Has that changed your approach to viewing ratings and developing new shows?
Absolutely. But not about the comedy versus drama thing. I've always had a chip on my shoulder ever since I was a kid about how drama is viewed as prestige and important, and comedy is viewed as disposable and easy. I think it's the exact opposite. I think drama is really fucking easy. It's sort of like Ginger Rogers doing all the dances that Fred Astaire did, but also backwards in heels. We also have to make jokes and be funny. And whether we're always successful or not, what we do really has a high degree of difficulty and doesn't often seem like that. Whereas dramas and prestige dramas, there's a lot of money behind them. You can put a lot of song budget behind cool songs to play at emotional moments, and it can seem like it's really working hard. Whereas I can tell you it's not as hard. That's not to say that dramas aren't good or difficult, but I'm just not a drama person necessarily.
You previously worked on Orange Is the New Black. But you prefer the weekly approach to putting new episodes of your shows out there?
Making something for Netflix or Amazon or any of these other places is a very different experience, and it is a different way in which you structure a season. We still appear once a week on your TV and that's how I like it, just from the ego place of getting the weekly feedback. But also, I like that it is teased out and you get to chew for a week, and the people who want to write about the show or think about the show have to do a deeper dive into it.
It wasn't like that when you did Orange is the New Black.
That was a very different experience. It just all comes out, and everyone's discovering the episode you wrote or the interesting thing you wanted them to watch in episode seven, at different times. And here, everyone is at the same time. So I do like that very much. But yeah, definitely the way shows are being sold and making money now I'm absolutely aware of it, but at the same time I just have to do the stories I want to tell. But I would also like to do something that is really uncategorizable and I'd like to do something in virtual reality. I think it's an amazing new space and a new storytelling opportunity.
Do you have any integrations on tap this season, or is your show still a tough nut for brands to crack?
We're a tough nut, man. I'm so open to it because we exist in the real world and we mention products constantly. We're like a Bret Easton Ellis book. We're constantly name-checking shit, and I would love someone to give us some money to do that! We would have a very fun time figuring it out and figuring out how to make it seamless. Because the fabric of our show is such that people already think we're getting paid for all this shit; I don't think that anyone would notice when we actually were. So please, come, advertisers!
Season 3 opens with a graphic, comedy sex scene that seems to harken back to the pilot. The show has evolved a lot since then, but that seemed like a palate cleanser after the darker direction you took Season 2.
Yeah, that's a really good way to put it, a palate cleanser. Last season was pretty heavy and part of the fun of watching this couple is that they are uninhibited, and part of the fun of relationships is that kind of stuff. In the pilot, it was very calculated as a storyteller for me to have them boning hard core within the first couple of minutes of the pilot. But then it was also equally purposeful to have them back off from that, to not be a show that keeps going to that well. So yeah, starting Season 3 with a minute-long, very explicit sex scene is like, OK, Jimmy and Gretchen are still hot for each other. And hopefully we can then buy some narrative ennui going on when we get weird.