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FX’s John Landgraf: Peak TV Was Media-Circus ‘Sideshow’ in 2017

Continued growth in digital streaming programming drove the number of original scripted U.S. television series to an all-time high in 2017. But according to FX CEO John Landgraf, Peak TV was a mere media “sideshow” in 2017.

Speaking at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Friday, Landgraf presented data culled by his company’s research department asserting that 487 original scripted series aired across U.S. broadcast, cable, and streaming platforms in 2017 — up 7% from 455 in 2016. The number of streaming series was responsible for much of that uptick, growing 30% from the previous year at 117.

The number of broadcast originals grew 5% to 153, after showing slight decline from 2015 to 2016. The number of pay-cable original series grew 17% to 42. The number of scripted original series on basic cable declined 4% to 175 — the second year in a row that FX observed declines in category.

Landgraf’s data-driven talks have become ritual at TCA press tours in recent years. But his executive session Friday was dominated largely by the Walt Disney Company’s pending acquisition of FX parent’s 21st Century Fox’s entertainment units and by FX’s decision last year to cut ties with longtime creative partner Louis C.K. following extensive reports detailing a pattern of sexual misconduct in the comic’s history.

In updating his annual Peak TV tally of the television’s ever-increasing volume of programming, Landgraf downplayed growth of scripted TV in the context of broader shifts in the media and cultural landscape.

“Information technology and the internet are rapidly transforming almost every aspect of our lives — some for better, some for worse,” Landgraf said in his opening remarks. “We’re much more connected in superficial ways, and much more isolated in profound ones. All the world’s combined knowledge it at our fingertips. But the same technology that makes this possible is robbing us of deeper insight.” Internet culture, he added, “has elevated the voices of many people who deserve to be heard, but it has also elevated the voices of many people who have nothing of value to say.”

Taking a shot at the Silicon Valley giants that have made significant incursions into territory once dominated by traditional media conglomerates, he said, “We have the most powerful tool for distributing, selecting, and shaping information the world has ever known, but those who control it are not heard to any firm standard of legal or moral accountability in return for the huge profits and how they are derived.”

Against that backdrop, Landgraf argued, television’s role has been diminished. “As incredible as television has become, it often feels like a sideshow in what has become a daily three-ring media circus,” he said. He also expressed wonder that any viewers in the current media environment make time for series television: “As much as I very much want audiences to watch FX’s carefully curated and highly contextualized television shows, I’m now glad when anyone takes the time to watch even our competition’s television series, as long as it demands their sustained attention and challenges their knee-jerk perceptions.

Landgraf also provided data regarding FX’s diversity efforts behind the camera, revealing that 37% of the directors employed on its series in 2017 were female — 33% white female and 4% non-white female. Non-white men made up 16% of the network’s directors in 2017, while white men made up 47%.

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