We at the Television Critics Association winter press tour mainlined our annual “Peak TV” lecture by Professor John Landgraf, better known as FX Networks content and productions chairman. In 2022, TV (and streaming) combined for a whopping 599 original, scripted (English-language, for adults) series — a new all-time high.
Landgraf believes “Peak TV,” a term he coined years ago, has finally peaked. With cost-cutting (and thus, content-cutting) all the rage, there’s nowhere to go but backward. That said, as he openly acknowledged several times during his Thursday morning TCA executive session, Landgraf has been wrong about the “peak” — a few times — before.
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IndieWire caught up with Landgraf (and FX presidents of original programming Nick Grad and Gina Balian) around lunchtime, when we asked John how low Consolidation TV — a term we think we just coined — could go?
Although Landgraf cautioned he would be “throwing darts” here, he stepped up to the toe line. So long as there are “five, six, seven, or eight streaming services,” Landgraf started, he believes the reversal could be “like 20-30 percent.”
Grad passed along to us that agents have been “seeing more passes and a lack of orders.” He added: “The cadence is just way off right now.”
Let’s do some math. A 20 percent decline would bring the “too much TV” count back down to the 480-series range, last seen around 2017. A 30 percent reversal would take the tally all the way back to about 420 scripted programs, or roughly what the ecosystem had in 2015.
What Landgraf would not venture a guess at is the number of years it might take us to go from 599 back to 420. There’s genius in knowing when to stop prognosticating.
Photo: Matt Dinerstein
Such rightsizing shouldn’t automatically cost quality, Landgraf told IndieWire. “The at-bats are not as precious when you’re making 600 television shows as an industry. The fewer at-bats you have, the more precious they are,” he said. “And hypothetically, the higher the bar is for what has become a really substantial financial commitment for making and marketing a scripted television show. So I think that everybody’s stiffening their standards a little bit, however they define standards.”
That applies to his own house, though Landgraf said (and Balian quickly agreed): “I hope ours are already high enough — it’s pretty hard to get a series on here at FX.”
During his earlier executive session, Landgraf did express some concern that consolidation could disproportionately impact the industry’s recent (and overdue) diversity and inclusion gains. “In the country which we live in, about 60 percent of the population identifies as white, and you take Latinx people who identify as Caucasian, it’s maybe closer to 70 percent if you’re going for the biggest meat of the audience … you tend to program for white men, because women watch a lot more drama and comedy than men, so if you get a scripted program that appeals to men, that’s automatically a boom,” Landgraf said during the larger-scale Q&A. “You worry, when there’s narrowing prospects, who’s losing opportunity.”
One thing the consolidation will not accomplish, Landgraf said, is the comeback of linear television, which is still (arguably, we suppose) where FX mostly exists. (FX is a key brand on streaming platform Hulu, which is majority-owned by shared parent Disney.)
“I think linear has a role to play in the ecosystem,” he said. “Linear is obviously still huge, but huge in what way? Well, local news, daytime talk shows, sports, right? Scripted programming, which is what we do, I don’t think is going to come back in a linear format. I don’t think that’s going to be the primary place people go to consume. The younger segment of the audience has voted, and they’ve voted that they want access on a streaming platform.”
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