TV executive predicts 500-show bubble destined to deflate

Pamela Adlon, co-creator, executive producer/writer/director, from left, executive producer M. Blair Breard and actors Mikey Madison, Hannah Alligood and Olivia Edward participate in the "Better Things" panel during the FX Television Critics Association summer press tour on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Donald Glover, creator/executive producer/director, from left, executive producer Paul Simms, producer/director Hiro Murai and actors Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield and Zazie Beetz participate in the "Atlanta" panel during the FX Television Critics Association summer press tour on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Donald Glover participates in the "Atlanta" panel during the FX Television Critics Association summer press tour on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Television viewers know there's a mind-boggling array of shows to attempt to watch. John Landgraf, the chief executive of FX Networks, predicted change is coming but not until the number of scripted series peaks at about 500 per year.

With a greater supply of U.S. television than can be profitably produced, the industry is "ballooning into a condition of oversupply" that will likely peak in the next two years and then slowly deflate, Landgraf told a TV critics meeting Tuesday.

"I'm not saying that I believe we are in a bubble which is going to pop, causing us to go from 500-plus scripted series to half that number," he said, but could dip to 400 or slightly fewer.

Scripted shows premiering this year should reach about 450 for broadcast, cable and streaming services and near or exceed 500 in 2017, in contrast to his expectation that it would peak this year, he said.

Landgraf did a big-picture assessment of the expanding TV landscape last year, focusing increased attention on a world that's moved far beyond the once-true saying that there's hundreds of channels and nothing worth watching. This has been characterized as a second "golden age" of TV, but the FX executive said even that is at risk because of the volume of shows.

A key driver in the streaming sector is Netflix, which Landgraf said has premiered or announced 71 scripted series, a number he said excludes documentary, late-night or non-English language shows.

By comparison, broadcast networks including NBC, ABC and CBS air about 150 scripted series; pay cable is at 50 and basic cable at 180, according to FX's tally.

Why Netflix is making "such an extraordinary number of shows, I really can't tell you," Landgraf said. Although he carefully avoided characterizing how the streaming service manages its level of production, he described the FX approach as a "non-industrial, extremely personal way" of making series, yielding between 17 to at most 22 a year.

He did say Netflix takes a "secretive" approach to its business model. The streaming service resolutely avoids releasing viewership numbers.

Audiences overall are having trouble distinguishing the "great from the merely competent," he said. But there is an upside for "storytellers," the writers and producers who are finding more work, and for networks like his that take chances on showcasing new voices, he said.

Other topics Landgraf addressed:

— Producer Ryan Murphy and FX have been secretive about the next edition of the "American Horror Story" anthology series because they thought it would "be fun for the audience to discover," he said, with the theme, setting and era yet to be unveiled. He said he sees no "end game" for the series, as long as Murphy keeps coming up with inventive ideas and the audience is there.

— Landgraf waxed enthusiastic about FX's two new comedies "Better Things," about a single mother with a forthright parenting style from creator-star Pamela Adlon, and "Atlanta," created by Donald Glover ("Community") and starring him as a man who returns to his home city after failing to realize his dreams. The shows offer new and different perspectives and are both funny and richly cinematic, he said.

— When it was reported that the top broadcast networks and cable channels were giving a majority of TV directing jobs to white men, Landgraf said he was dismayed to find that FX Networks brought up the rear. To "correct the error," he sought help from all producers making hiring decisions, with the result that more women and people of color are being hired — 51 percent of the 149 directors since the initiative began, he said.

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