A year ago, FX Networks CEO John Landgraf made headlines and a hashtag when he told reporters at the Television Critics Association summer press tour that “2015 or 2016 will represent peak TV in America.” Today, the man only half jokingly referred to as the Mayor Of Television walked that estimate back a little bit, but only because TV shows no signs of slowing down.
“It now seems clear that, at a minimum, the peak will be in calendar 2017—and there is enough inertial momentum here that we could well see the growth trend carrying over into the 2018 calendar year,” Landgraf said. To that end, the latest data from the network predicts that approximately 500 scripted series will be produced in the United States by 2017. That’s up from the record 417 series FX counted in 2015, with projections suggesting that output from streaming platforms could eventually eclipse that of the six broadcast networks.
“A huge increase in scripted series is being driven by the streaming services, and much more than any other service by Netflix, which has at this point premiered and/or announced 71 scripted series,” Landgraf said. “For reference, that’s more than the announced future output of HBO, Showtime, Starz, and FX combined. And this list does not include Netflix’s dozens of original children’s series or documentary series or late-night series or even fully scripted series produced primarily in a language other than English. By the rules we followed, for example, our estimate of 71 shows actually eliminates 15 fully scripted foreign language series from Netflix’s total that will of course also air in the U.S.”
Through a combination of his proven programming track record, evident TV smarts, a willingness to get wonky, and a knack for confirming hypotheses formed by critics and reporters, Landgraf has long given the TV press reason to take these declarations without a grain of salt. He sees a corps of professionals burned out by the imperative to keep up with every new Netflix show, and comfortingly murmurs, “Yeah, I think this is crazy, too.” Without naming names, today he expressed skepticism toward the data-driven programming of Netflix and its ilk, saying, “Television shows are not like cars or operating systems, and they are not best made by engineers or coders in the same assembly line manner as consumer products which need to be of uniform size, shape and quality.”
“The storyteller comes before the story,” Landgraf said at one point, and the second half of his remarks pivoted toward one of the positive byproducts of Peak TV: The wider range of individuals and perspectives represented by those storytellers. Here he was in critic-whisperer mode once more: Recent efforts for greater diversity behind FX Networks’ cameras were attributed in part to the reporting of Variety’s Maureen Ryan, who in 2015 relayed the fact that 88 percent of episodes aired by FX and FXX during the 2014-15 season were directed by white men. “I immediately set out to correct that error,” Landgraf said. “I wrote a letter to all of the FX Networks showrunners—those who actually make the hiring decisions for episodic directors—asking for their help.” Statistics revealed during his presentation—which look at a longer period of time than the Directors Guild Of America’s upcoming survey on the topic—showed that 51 percent of the networks’ episodes for 2016-17 will have been helmed by women or people of color. Not coincidentally, Variety published a follow-up on Ryan and Landgraf’s conversation today, a day in which the first two series FX Networks presented to the TCA were Better Things (co-created by Pamela Adlon, who also directs) and Atlanta (created by Donald Glover and directed by Hiro Murai).