Have we officially reached peak TV?

By Hank Stuever

A scene from season five of Game of Thrones, season 6 is set to air in April.
A scene from season five of Game of Thrones, season 6 is set to air in April.

If the reporters and critics attending the Television Critics Association's twice-annual press tours have a favourite network muckety-muck these days, it might be FX's president and general manager, John Landgraf.

At last summer's tour, the 53-year-old Landgraf, who has headed FX since 2005, was the guy who candidly declared a current era of "peak TV," in reference to the ever-growing field of television content that's available on broadcast, cable and streaming networks. Armed with the sort of in-house data that confirms what anyone with a backlog of unwatched series can attest to, Landgraf laid out the Golden Age of TV's looming crisis: overload.

Between 2009 and 2014, the number of scripted series (comedies and dramas) increased from 211 to 376 - and Landgraf predicted in August that the number of shows in production would top 400 by the end of 2015.

It did. By FX's most recent count last week, we are now watching - or not watching, as the case may be - 412 shows. (That number doesn't count reality/competition shows and other unscripted content. Taking a page from Landgraf, National Geographic Channel showed up to the press tour on Jan.

6 with some of its own data on reality TV, estimating that there are 750 unscripted shows currently on cable, 350 of which had premieres in 2015.)

It's not all just an embarrassment of riches, Landgraf has said. There are now so many networks creating original scripted shows that, even if they find niche audiences, they may never find enough viewers or subscribers to cover all the production costs. TV critics quickly turned "peak TV" into a hashtag and a sort of shibboleth, as well as a valid excuse for their inability to write about it all.

When Landgraf returned to TCA's winter press tour on Saturday, he didn't have any new buzzwords to share (although he has started referring to the Golden Age of TV as a "platinum age"), but he still thinks the bubble will eventually burst.

"There are people that are uncomfortable even debating a question of whether there is or can be too much television," Landgraf told reporters. "I'm saying that from a business standpoint and increasingly from a consumer standpoint, it's hard to launch shows. I think it's harder and harder for consumers to see good shows."

Landgraf predicts a contraction in a year or so.

"It's like there's too much of everything in many ways," he said. "There's not enough human attention to go around for all of the data, all of the articles, all of the television shows, all of the content if you put it in a large bucket that's been made. ... If you really dug under the economics of every business making unscripted television shows and every show itself, they wouldn't be all profitable, that there are more shows being made than can be sustained economically."

On Sunday, Netflix's chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, batted aside the notion that the glut is overwhelming. Netflix now has some five dozen series aimed at adult viewers and more to come; Sarandos estimated Netflix will spend about $6 billion this year producing and acquiring content.

"Is there too much TV?" Sarandos asked. "Well, we don't think there is, and if there is, someone else is going to have to slow down."

Like everyone else, FX continues to crank out new shows, including the upcoming premieres of Zach Galifianakis's sad-clown comedy Baskets on Thursday and the anthology drama American Crime Story (The People v. O.J. Simpson) on Feb. 2.

Kirsten Dunst stars in Fargo Season 2.
Kirsten Dunst stars in Fargo Season 2.

The Americans returns on March 16, but the wait for Season 3 of Fargo will be a long one. All we know so far is that it's set in 2010 (Season 2 was set in 1979) and will feature at least one character we've seen before, Landgraf said. The series won't start filming until next winter.

And this summer the network will premiere Donald Glover's fascinating dramedy Atlanta, which, judging from the pilot episode, could be one of the most talked-about shows of 2016. Glover described his show to critics as "Twin Peaks with rappers" and it's easy to see why: The pilot has a dreamy, humid, beautifully meandering quality to it.

Elsewhere on the TCA press tour, which began Jan. 5 and wraps up Tuesday:

• HBO is putting a lot of hope in its new 1970s record-label drama Vinyl. The two-hour pilot (airs Feb. 14), directed by Martin Scorsese, is masterful. There's still no premiere date, meanwhile, for the sci-fi Western drama Westworld, but Season 6 of Game of Thrones will start April 24, accompanied by season premieres of Veep and Silicon Valley.

Game of Thrones returns in April.
Game of Thrones returns in April.

• NBC says it's this close to getting Hairspray for its live December musical. Once it does, expect name-brand showfolk to scramble for all the good parts.

• In other musical news, Fox brought the stars of Grease: Live! (airs Jan. 31), who broke out in a spontaneous ramma-lamma-ding-dong. The network also announced more casting for its upcoming remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Adam Lambert will play Eddie, and Tim Curry, the 1975 screen version's Dr. Frank-N-Furter, will play the show's criminologist narrator. Grease will differ from NBC's musicals in one noticeable way: It will have an audience on the set. Applause might make a real difference.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are back for The X-Files.
David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are back for The X-Files.

• Enthralled by all the advance hype for the Jan. 24 return of The X-Files, Fox has ordered a pilot episode for a possible new 24 series. Subtitled Legacy, this one will feature new CTU personnel, which apparently means no Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland). And a new Prison Break is in the works; this one has the original guys.

• Netflix, arguably the cause of all this "peak TV" talk (and, not coincidentally, the network that dares to revive Full House next month), on Sunday presented Judd Apatow's quirky comedy series Love (Feb. 19), Will Arnett's dramedy Flaked (March 11) and a multi-cam comedy called The Ranch (April 1) starring Ashton Kutcher.

Ellie Kemper as Kimmy Schmidt in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Ellie Kemper as Kimmy Schmidt in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Netflix also announced a slew of premiere dates, including second seasons of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (April 15) and Grace and Frankie (May 6) and Season 4 of Orange Is the New Black (June 17). As previously announced, Season 4 of House of Cards will stream March 4.

Until the bubble bursts, more is more.

- Washington Post

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