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In ten years, the number of scripted shows on American TV has more than doubled


A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

In 2009 there were 211 scripted television series on broadcast and cable networks, according to a count commissioned by FX.

In 2014, the first year FX shared its data, the total was up to 376, and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon were in the mix. FX wasn’t counting daytime TV or shows for kids or specials — just regularly scheduled dramas and sitcoms and the like. The growth was explosive. FX boss John Landgraf warned that the industry was living through a bubble. “This is simply too much television,” he said in 2015. “My sense is that 2015 or 2016 will represent peak TV in America, and that we’ll begin to see declines coming the year after that and beyond.”

That’s when the notion of “peak TV” was introduced. But we haven’t reached the peak yet. New distributors keep getting into the game. On Thursday Landgraf shared FX’s newest estimate at the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour: There were 532 scripted programs across broadcast, cable and streaming in 2019, he said, a 7% increase over 2018.

So, for the first time, the industry has topped 500 scripted shows. The question in John Koblin’s NYT story: “When will the bubble pop?”


Brian Lowry emails: It’s a dizzying number, one Landgraf said he expects to keep rising, at least in the near term, as more resources are funneled into new streaming services. “That total will increase substantially this year, which to me is just bananas,” Landgraf said…

Read more of Thursday’s “Reliable Sources” newsletter… And subscribe here to receive future editions in your inbox…

Netflix’s view: No ‘peak’

Netflix, of course, has rejected the “peak TV” talk while making more and more and more shows. Ted Sarandos pushed back against Landgraf in 2015 and again in 2017. The Netflix argument: “We’re making a lot of television because tastes are incredibly diverse. The idea that there’s too much out there is silly, and it’s a very kind of analogue idea of how to make programming choices.”

TV critics can sense the changes…

Lowry adds: The streaming influence is certainly in evidence across the TCA press tour, with Hulu and Apple among the presenters, and emphasis on streaming projects like “Star Trek: Picard” from CBS All Access. Some traditional channels, meanwhile, have shrunk their footprint, seemingly concluding that they’re getting less bang for their bucks — and a commentary, as well, on the shifting nature of the outlets covering the event. The press tour continues through January 19…

Article Topic Follows: Biz/Tech

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