A network boss has again warned of the dangers of “too much TV”, but is the industry really suffering from a glut?
According to FX chief John Landgraf, the industry is suffering “a major disruption”, with an overload of TV shows pouring into our screens, giving us little time to decide what to watch – and leaving the best shows unnoticed.
“The business is heading from an optimal number of shows to an unmanageable number of shows,” he said at the TV Critics Association Tour last week.
Landgraf thinks traditional networks around the world will have to “evolve with the times”, or risk being forgotten in the dust of time.
This isn’t the first time Landgraf has warned of the situation. In 2015, he famously said we had now reached what he coined as the era of “Peak TV”.
That meant the so-called “Golden Era of Television” was officially over – replaced by a commercial giant so big and greedy it was reaching saturation.
It is easy to disagree with Landgraf, and bring up satisfying numbers from shows like Game Of Thrones or The Walking Dead.
It is also easy to interpret his remarks as a way of selling FX’s new video-on-demand service FX+, which he defends is the only way for traditional broadcasters to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon.
But looking back 10 years ago, when The Sopranos had just wrapped up and The Wire was taking a gap year before its finale, it’s easy to see how one might look around and think: is a Will And Grace reboot really the year’s biggest release?
The answer is not a clear “yes” or “no”, but an ambiguous “for some”.
Because TV has evolved, grown into a more ramified business where there isn’t just one big show you should be watching – but where each audience has to learn to navigate through to find its niche.
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Of course there are still the blockbuster-equivalents that everyone seems to be tuning into, but these lack the quality, depth or relevance of HBO’s good old days.
So are there quality shows out there that no one is watching?
According to Landgraf, 2016 saw 455 scripted series air. This year, the number is edging close to 400 already.
In the US, free channels are increasing the competition, stepping up their game with SVOD services like CBS’ All Access and the industry-shacking DisneyLife.
This offers niche audiences a better shot at choosing what to watch in these smaller networks, free from the bindings of Netflix, Amazon or even HBO.
FX is a prime example of that. Langraf’s strategy has never been big audience shows and huge ratings, but smaller ones with a loyal fan base like the raunchy comedy It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Justified and Louie.
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At the TV Critics Association Tour, Landgraf was again asked if a revival of Louis CK’s groundbreaking comedy was to happen any time soon. The answer is “maybe, maybe not”.
Landgraf has decided to give his showrunners the freedom to come and go as they wish, with the certainty that their fans won’t lose interest.
That has allowed TV gems like Donald Glover’s Atlanta and Zach Galifianakis’ Baskets to flourish – the last one produced by CK himself, who continues to cooperate with FX after his standalone show.
So, while Landgraf believes there is a glut forming in the era of Peak TV, the truth is that it is most likely evolving to an era where Golden Age shows like The Sopranos or The Wire will be found in smaller, cheaper and more artsy formats.
Like FX’s Louie and Atlanta or Netflix’s Master Of None, golden age-standard shows are now aimed at smaller audiences.
They are definitely out there. The difference is, and you might have to pay for more subscriptions to find them.