Remember when you could count on TV? You could schedule your life knowing what shows to watch and when to watch them? How sweet the past! How innocent! Just between us, TVWriter™ is mighty glad those days are over, but it turns out that there are others whose opinions differ:
by Lara Zarum
When I’m old and grey and yet still, in the words of Carrie Bradshaw jetting off to Paris, “impossibly fresh-looking,” I’ll sit my grandchildren on my lap and tell them the story of Peak TV: “Between 2009 and 2015,” I’ll croak, “the number of scripted series on TV practically doubled, from around 200 to just over 400.” To which my grandchildren will respond, “What’s TV?”
In a Vulture cover story that ran last week called “The Business of Too Much TV,” reporters Josef Adalian and Maria Elena Fernandez spoke to showrunners, writers, directors, crewmembers, actors, talent agents, and executives in an attempt to understand how “Peak TV” — a term coined last summer by FX president John Landgraf — has affected the industry. As Adalian and Fernandez illustrate, we’re in the middle of a boom time: from line producers to writers to port-a-potty rentals, demand is fast outstripping supply. Movie stars are commanding millions of dollars per episode of the next hot Netflix or HBO or Showtime series. There’s more opportunity than ever for a creator with a strong vision to get her show on the air.
And yet, and yet, and yet: it’s harder than ever for veteran TV actors to compete with those buzzy silver-screen names. A creator with a huge hit on his hands won’t see nearly the kind of payoff from Netflix as he would from a traditional network. The pressure to make TV episodes that look like movies — not to mention the demand for experienced crewmembers — has pushed up production costs.
If you care about television and also fear change, it’s a scary time. On a good day, it feels too good to be true — Peak TV hath wrought Orange is the New Black and UnREAL and Mr. Robot and a Hulu-assisted fourth season of The Mindy Project and myriad other blessings. But the big worry, according to insiders, is that we haven’t yet reached real Peak TV — that networks currently focusing on cheap-to-produce reality shows will turn to scripted series, a stock-market “hiccup” will scare the new streaming giants into cutting costs, and the bubble will burst.
In the past few years, streaming services have come off as the saviors of quality television. A show like Orange is the New Black, with its racially, bodily, and sexually diverse cast made almost entirely of women, would have had a hard time making it to air on a traditional TV network; the same has been said of Amazon’s Transparent, among the most critically lauded series of the moment.
But as one showrunner points out in the Vulture article, Netflix has started to rein in its marketing efforts for some original series….