FX picks up 'Sons of Anarchy'

Drama comes from 'The Shield's' Kurt Sutter

Let the motorcycle wars begin.

FX on Tuesday picked up "Sons of Anarchy" to series for a September launch.

The cable network handed out a 13-episode order to the drama from "The Shield" writer/executive producer Kurt Sutter, FX Prods. and Fox 21, which is set in the world of motorcycle clubs.

The news comes days after HBO began production on the pilot for its own biker-themed drama, "1%."

"Sons," which Sutter is exec producing with father and son Art and John Linson, explores a notorious outlaw motorcycle club's efforts to protect their town of Charming, Calif., from drug dealers and local corporate developers. It centers on Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), whose love for the brotherhood comes into direct conflict with his growing apprehension regarding the club's lawlessness. Katey Sagal, who is married to Sutter, stars as his force-of-nature mother. The other central role, that of Jax's stepfather, who is the club's president, will be recast. It was played in the pilot by Scott Glenn.

"Doing research, I had the opportunity to spend time with members of outlaw motorcycle clubs," Sutter said, "and was amazed at how the outside world takes them seriously and within their fraternity, they have a great sense of dark humor and don't take themselves seriously."

Sutter is planning to infuse more of that dark humor into the script, which led to the reimagining of the stepfather character and the recasting of the role, he said.

As for the potential rivalry with HBO's "1%" -- set at the Carefree, Ariz., chapter of one of the toughest motorcycle clubs in the country, the Death Rangers -- "it could sound like sour grapes, but the reality is we pitched the show to a lot of places," Sutter said.

Three networks were interested in "Sons," including HBO and FX.

"I went to FX because I felt they were the right place to do it," he said.

FX ordered a script for "Sons" (formerly known as "Forever Sam Crow" and "Charming, CA") in October 2006.

According to a lawsuit Hell's Angels founder Sonny Barger recently filed against HBO and "1%" creator Michael Tolkin over that project, "1%" was pitched to HBO in January 2007. (Both "Sons" and "1%" had been in the works for several years, starting off in the feature world.)

Then the two dramas were picked up to pilot within a few days of each other in October, with "1%" getting the green light first.

The pilot for "Sons," which was directed by Allen Coulter and co-stars Drea de Matteo and Maggie Siff, wrapped in March. The pilot for "1%," directed by Alan Taylor and starring Donal Logue, began production Friday.

"Historically, in every key phase we have been ahead," FX president and GM John Landgraf said.

But he stressed that the decision to greenlight the series quickly for a June production start and September premiere was not an effort to be first in the marketplace but to launch the new series around the final season of "The Shield."

"It's a world that people who love 'The Shield' would respond to," Landgraf said of "Sons."

Early feedback supports that, with test audiences describing the show as "Easy Rider" meets "The Sopranos," he said.

Recent examples of two series with similar settings launching close to each other include NBC's comedy "30 Rock" and drama "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," both taking place behind the scenes of a sketch comedy show.

Only one of them, "30 Rock," survived past the first season. The same may be in the cards for "Sons" and "1%."

"I'm not sure there is room for more than one motorcycle drama on television," Sutter said. "But we will move on with what we're doing, and they will move on with what they're doing."