Ever since Disney bought most of the 21st Century Fox assets and FX turned into a subsidiary of the Mouse House, John Landgraf — or as we dubbed him in the media, the “Mayor of Television” — has toned down his prognostications over the future of television. We used to eat it all up, from Landgraf’s lament that the business of TV couldn’t sustain the volume of programming it was churning out, to his annual count of original scripted programming across the industry.
Landgraf once believed that the primetime bubble would burst by the end of the last decade. But no one, even the Mayor, predicted how big the streaming frenzy would get, or how fast it would change the biz. Instead of the bubble bursting, it was primetime that fell apart. FX doesn’t think of itself as a linear network anymore; it’s a brand with programming that streams on Hulu. And in 2021, despite the pandemic, FX’s tally counted a record 559 original scripted series on U.S. networks and streaming services.
That’s not including the hundreds and hundreds of unscripted shows — perhaps more than 1,000. We’ve been talking about Peak TV for a decade now, and the recent additions of Peacock, Paramount+ and Discovery+ to the world of Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+ and the expanded HBO Max just complicates matters. Throw in AVOD services like Roku, Tubi and IMDb TV — err, “Freevee.” And smaller entrants like AMC+, Acorn, Britbox and Hungrr. (OK, I made that last one up.)
But you know all this. The real issue now is the logjam of year-round programming that truly makes it impossible to develop any sort of major awareness for new shows, particularly entrants without obvious legacy IP. Those of us covering TV have long been overwhelmed with the amount of content coming out – which is why Landgraf’s gospel earned so many followers in our field.
But now that tyranny of too much TV has trickled down to consumers, who didn’t suddenly find more hours of the day to watch all this stuff. The streaming business is experiencing its first major crisis of confidence, spurred by last week’s news of a Netflix subscriber dip (and subsequent plummet in valuation) — part of that comes from consumers who have hit a wall in how many streamers they’re willing to subscribe to, and the amount they’re eager to pay.
All of this comes, a bit ironically, during what is undoubtedly the most crowded spring in TV history. It’s no secret that not too long ago, this is when the TV season was wrapping up. Networks were prepping for summer vacation. No one in their right mind would launch a show in May, right before the off season, unless it was a turd they were trying to bury.
The advent of short 8- and 10-episode seasons, plus the binge release in streaming, turned this into the time frame for outlets to premiere their big Emmy contenders — right before the May 31 cutoff. And this year, that has meant a ridiculous number of premieres in recent weeks: More than 30 returning shows such as new seasons of “Atlanta,” “Barry,” “Better Call Saul,” “The Flight Attendant,” “Girls5Eva,” “Hacks,” “Russian Doll,” “Stranger Things” and “Tehran.” And around 60 new series, including “Angelyne,” “Bosch: Legacy,” “Candy,” “The Essex Serpent,” “The First Lady,” “Gaslit,” “I Love That For You,” “Killing It,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” “The Offer,” “Outer Range,” “The Pentaverate,” “Pistol,” “61st Street,” “Slow Horses,” “The Staircase,” “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” “Tokyo Vice,” “Under the Banner of Heaven” and “We Own This City.”
Things are so out of control that we have dueling shows titled “Anatomy of a Scandal” and “A Very British Scandal” premiering just days apart, both about impropriety in the U.K.!
The next several weeks is utter madness, and I ran out of room to list even more shows set to launch. This programming dump this late in the eligibility calendar doesn’t help anyone. Everyone gets lost in the shuffle, and the Emmy front-runners wind up being series that premiered months ago. If I were to run for Mayor of Television, my platform would be simple: Dump the dump!
[Photos: Sienna Miller stars as Sophie Whitehouse in Netflix drama “Anatomy of a Scandal”; Claire Foy plays Margaret Campbell in Amazon Prime Video’s “A Very British Scandal.”]