Some people are sooo hard to please!
by Tim Goodman
Five years ago, there was no House of Cards or Orange Is the New Black. Amazon was shipping products, not signing Woody Allen to make television. Nobody thought Jerry Seinfeld, creator and star of one of TV’s greatest series, would make a show for the Internet.
Around that time, I was hired as THR‘s chief television critic, and I would like to think that I knew big changes were coming to the industry — but maybe not this big.
As we burst out of the Golden and into the Platinum Age of Television, the total number of series (and distribution platforms) soared, leaving audiences drunk on choice. It goes almost without saying that qualitatively, television is off the charts today — even with two of the best dramas, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, no longer on the air. There were a total of 213 scripted series in primetime (8 to 11 p.m.) in 2010, broadcast and cable combined, according to data provided by FX Networks. Now there are more than 400, counting broadcast, cable and streaming. Throw unscripted into the calculation, and in 2014 there were a staggering 1,715 shows in primetime. Who would want to sit at a desk and count how many more appeared in 2015? When is it all too much?
What can’t be overstated about the giant swell in TV offerings is the stress it has put on both creator and audience. It’s a gold rush out there for content creators. Everybody wants content. There are more people willing to distribute it than ever. And there essentially are no constraints on what can be depicted.
The downside? Viewers can handle only so many new shows. While they’re certainly expanding their DVR playlists, they’re also less likely to watch in a timely manner and more likely to give up on a show quickly because there is no lack of shiny new options everywhere they look. What this means is you can create a gem like Manhattan, but that doesn’t mean viewers will seek it out it on WGN America. And you can hatch an off-kilter little drama called Fortitude — Michael Gambon! Stanley Tucci! Christopher Eccleston! — but try finding people who’ve ever heard of it, or of the cable channel, Pivot, that airs it.