Peak TV’s Plateau and Other FX News

FX Executive Session Panel, TCA Winter Press Tour, Los Angeles, USA - 04 Feb 2019Peak TV took a pause last year. Instead of steady, explosive growth of the number of scripted TV series with original episodes, there was just a 2 percent increase from 2017. It’s still an inhuman amount of shows — 496 compared to last year’s 487.

“Overall, this was a very slow growth year, but bucked the trend of 7 percent or more growth in each of the past ten years,” says Landgraf, who alone keeps tabs of such information (or at least is alone in regularly sharing them with the press). His executive sessions at the TV Critics Association press tour, such as the one this week in Pasadena, are well attended as part press conference, part TED talk, and part industry prognostication. But not always with infallible forecasts.

“I was wrong in my initial prediction several years ago when I guessed that the peak of scripted TV would happen in 2017 or ’18,” Landgraf said. But, he added, “I’m betting we’ll see a more robust growth again this year and maybe next year because Netflix is spending more and more money, still adding to their already insane volume of output.”

Also, he noted HBO plans more original programming this year, Apple will start making shows, Amazon will continue to grow as will the other streaming services existing or soon to start.

Landgraf saved particular scorn for Netflix’ selective reporting of viewer numbers, saying that its boasts of 40 million viewers for You or Sex Education. Because the methodology they use is based on an individual Netflix account watching at least 70 percent of one episode differs wildly with accepted audience measurement at Nielsen — adding up every minute viewed and dividing it by total duration of the program. Hence You could be one-fifth less that number or 8 million.

Sticking to baseball metaphors, Landgraf said, “by reporting their singles as if they were home runs and failing to ever report a single strikeout, they undercut an accurate perception of their batting average and misrepresent the number and scale of their hits.”

With Neilsen set to begin measuring streaming services, though, “one way or the other, the truth will ultimately come out, as it always does.”

His strong words on Netflix were also universal enough to apply to other fields. “It’s just not a good thing for society when one entity or one person gets to unilaterally make the rules or pronounce the truth,” he says.

In answer to questions, he said there are three or four ideas in active development for “American Crime Story” but currently, a season about the Katrina hurricane in New Orleans “is not still in the mix.” There is more coming from “American Horror Story” as well.

The fourth season of “Fargo” is going into production “this coming winter.” Landgraf said as long as Hawley “can come up with ideas that are fantastic ideas for subsequent cycles of Fargo, we’ll keep making them.”

Landgraf says he’s astonished by the longevity of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” scheduled for its 14th season. “I could have never predicted that it would be the longest running live action sitcom in television history,” he said. “And I’d say there is a good chance it might go past Season 14, which is the last one we’ve currently ordered.”

Because of delays, a new season of “Atalanta” won’t be out in time for the Emmy cycle (which ends May 31, 2019). “You just have to make a decision about quantity over quality at a certain point,” Landgraf says, “and we’re just erring on the side of quality.”

Among the announcements for the session was the series order of Y, the adaptation of the DC sci-fi comic “Y: The Last Man has been ordered to series at FX, with Diane Lane, Barry Keoghan, Imogen Poots and Amber Tamblyn, premiering next year.

The 10th season of “Archer” kicks off in April.

A documentary series from The New York Times called “The Weekly” will highlight investigative pieces with cinematography that takes its cues from the Times’ award-winning photography department. There were no advance episodes made available of the show, so it’s somewhat a guessing game that it will be. It doesn’t seem like it will have much to do with the podcast “The Daily,” it won’t have a host, and it will sometimes be accompanied by stories in the paper or the website, but sometimes not. Actually, it looks a lot like the former nightly dispatches from “Vice.” It debuts in June.

Also starting in June is the third and final season of the eye-popping “Legion,” the Marvel TV adaptation least like a superhero story. Creator Noah Hawley “had always considered Legion — and conceived Legion —  as a three season show, and he has confirmed that he’s going to stick to his plans,” Landgraf said.

Landgraf didn’t provide much on the impending merger with Fox to Disney except to say it’s not expected to change FX, which marks its 25th anniversary in June.

The FX shows continue to lead in quality with 13 of its 14 shows making year end critics’ best lists — a much better batting average than nearest competitors HBO (20 of its 70s shows on critics’ lists) or the outsized output of Netflix (62 of 520 different shows last year).

Landgraf has a close relationship with critics because he is perhaps alone among network executives in respecting their work.

“I think you guys know what’s good. I think you guys know what is advancing the medium in television, what is on the cutting edge, because you’re the ones that watch it all.”

 

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