Confused much? Me too. Let’s say we’re both interested in that show we read about a while back. It’s called Reservation Dogs and, heavens, it has accumulated praise. It’s been called “a sharp comedy, about irreverent Indigenous teens living on a reservation and trying desperately to get out, and a delightful surprise.” (That’s USA Today reviewer Kelly Lawler.)
You look it up online, find more praise and see it’s on the channel FX. We get FX in Canada, right? We do, it’s in most cable packages but, here, Reservation Dogs is on Disney+, a streaming service.
It’s important to mention FX here, for two reasons.
First, the boss at FX, John Landgraf, a nice and very smart man, has been counting the number of scripted TV shows that launch in the U.S. market every year. He’s been doing this since FX made its first scripted series and he wanted an overview of the competition. He speaks to TV critics twice a year and gives his assessments of the market. A few years ago, he coined the term “Peak TV” to describe the avalanche that came with the first streaming services, and said “There is simply too much television.”
Speaking to us this week, online, Landgraf said that there were 559 original scripted series last year, across broadcast, cable and streaming. Sounds like a lot, right? Well, his team has estimated that during the first six months of this year, 2022, there were 357 scripted originals available, which was up 16 per cent from the same six-month period last year. By the end of this year, that 559 number for last year might look low.
The year 2022 is what Landgraf is now predicting as the “Peak TV” year. That is, after that, there will be a decline. But, as he admits, he’s been wrong before. “My original prediction that we would see maximum in 2018 or 2019 was obviously way, way off,” he said. “This year, we’ve seen a tidal wave of scripted programming thanks to the bottleneck of COVID-delay production finally clearing up from Jan. 1 through the end of June.”
It must be noted that the figures cited by the FX’s executive don’t include PBS, as it’s a public broadcaster, but the scripted series and documentaries on PBS must be covered by most TV critics. And there’s an obvious point to be added by this TV critic, writing here for a Canadian outlet. The figures don’t include Canadian TV. Add all the comedy and drama made here for Canadian channels, plus the documentaries, and I am facing an ever-increasing torrent of content.
For this critic, the handing of so much TV content is guided by “know thyself” as the oracle at Delphi commanded. That is, know the audience that reads the outlet you write for. Try to know its taste, needs and interests. There are, every year, dozens of new series that, I’m pretty sure, readers don’t want to hear about, and then there are the under-the-radar series that don’t get a ton of attention, but deserve it.
This brings us back to the confusion that adds to the sheer number of series available. When FX was just a very good and superbly curated cable channel, along with an offshoot called FXX, the latter aimed at a younger audience and having more comedy, it was relatively easy to cover.
FX had a string of great series, in Nip/Tuck, Sons of Anarchy, Justified, American Horror Story, The Americans and Feud, among many others. FX was owned by 21st Century Fox, and very distinct from both the Fox TV channel and Fox News, existing as the prestige cable channel with fine, award-winning shows. And they were all available here.
In 2019, Disney acquired 21st Century Fox as part of its preparation to enter the streaming wars. It was a convoluted acquisition with parts of the Fox empire remaining under Fox control, and parts of the Fox library becoming Disney property. FX went under the Disney umbrella. It still existed, thankfully, but Disney launched something called, “FX on Hulu”, which put some FX content on Hulu, a service we don’t get in Canada. That “FX on Hulu” moniker was abandoned at the end of last year.
Then came the real breakdown. In Canada, Reservation Dogs, a series with a built-in Canadian audience, is really a Disney+ show. And now The Bear, one of the most praised FX series in some time, isn’t on FX here. It comes to Disney+ in Canada this week. Confused and frustrated? We all are.
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