Scott D. Pierce: Good news! Hollywood is making fewer TV series — because we don’t need 600 a year

Peak TV is now ‘Peaked TV,’ on TV executive said. Here’s why that is probably good for consumers.

A high-profile Hollywood producer said it’s a “scary thing” that the media giants aren’t producing as many new TV series as they have in the past few years — but is that really a problem? Do we really need 600 scripted series a year?

Absolutely not. (Those 600 shows don’t include news, sports, documentaries, children’s programs and more.)

In an interview with Vulture, Judd Apatow bemoaned the fact that so many consumers watch or rewatch old shows instead of streaming new ones — although he acknowledged that he does that himself.

“It’s a scary thing as a creator of television because of all the streamers going, ‘Wait a second. We don’t need to spend $200 million on a new show. We can just bring back ‘Barnaby Jones.’ They’re going to do it, then you’ll get fewer new shows,” Apatow said.

(Maybe he was kidding about “Barnaby Jones,” a 1973-80 detective drama headlined by “Beverly Hillbillies” star Buddy Ebsen. But the point stands.)

(HBO via AP) This image released by HBO shows Dwayne Johnson from the HBO series, "Ballers."

Apatow, perhaps best known as the director of movies like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up” and “The King of Staten Island,” has produced — and sometimes directed — such TV series as “Freaks & Geeks,” “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Girls.”

He also expressed unhappiness that the media conglomerates are returning to their old ways by licensing their shows to each other. He bemoaned the fact that Warner Bros. Discovery-owned HBO recently sold streaming rights to shows like “Band of Brothers,” “The Pacific,” “Six Feet Under” and “Ballers” to Netflix, which is cheaper than making new shows.

“Then at some point, Netflix will sell its shows to HBO, and it’ll just be passing around all the episodes of ‘Ballers’ for the rest of our lives,” he said.

Yes, this is kind of bad — for producers like Apatow, but not for consumers. At least not yet.

So much television has been produced in the past few years that it might take the rest of your life to watch it all. And I’m not talking about crummy, low-budget series (although there are plenty of those) but higher-quality stuff. There has been so much television produced over the past few years that a lot of good, even great, stuff has gotten lost in the flood of programming.

FX CEO John Landgraf — who has been predicting for the past several years that the number of scripted series was about to decline — has finally been proven right. “Peak TV” is now “at long last, Peaked TV,” Landgraf recently told TV critics.

John Landgraf, chairman of FX Networks and FX Productions, addresses reporters at the 2020 FX Networks Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

After hitting an almost unimaginable 600 shows in 2022, that number fell by 14% in 2023. The Hollywood actors’ and writers’ strikes contributed to that, “but the industry shift and the drawdown of production was likely underway even before the strikes shuttered all production.”

Why? Because the streamers — including Netflix, Max, Disney+, Peacock and Paramount+ — learned that their strategy of producing hundreds of new shows to attract subscribers led to billions in losses. To become profitable, they have to cut costs. There have been plenty of layoffs within the media giants, but their biggest cost is programming. So shows had to go.

Early indications are that 2024 will be similar to 2023, as the number of new shows continues to decline.

This is not a bad thing for viewers. Yes, there are some really good ideas for some really great TV series that won’t get made now, and a lot of good shows are going to end. But let me ask once again — who has time to watch 600 TV shows? Of those 600, how many were you even aware of?

I watch TV for a living, and there are times when I open a streaming service and I’m so overwhelmed by the number of choices that I end up rewatching something I’ve seen before. I know I’m not alone in this, even among TV critics.

I’m all in favor of producers, writers, actors and everyone else behind the scenes having work, but the billions that the streamers have spent on shows that nobody watches have made the streaming services more expensive to the consumers.

Haven’t you noticed the rates going up? It doesn’t take too many subscriptions for cord-cutters to find they’re spending as much for streaming as they used to pay for cable or satellite TV.

Landgraf worries that in a world filled with short YouTube and TikTok videos, “Our attention spans have declined radically. And I think our patience with things that are a little demanding [has] gone down.” In other words, viewers are impatient “and if it’s not to their taste in three minutes, they often leave. … We have 8,000 episodes of television available on our streaming platforms,” he said, “and so holding people’s attention is really difficult.”

Among the most-streamed shows these days are “The Office” (which went off the air almost 13 years ago) and “Friends” (which exited almost 20 years ago). A show like “Suits,” which didn’t get that much attention when it aired on the USA Network from 2011-19, is going gangbusters on Netflix — only partly because Prince Harry’s wife, Meghan Markle, was in the first seven seasons. “There’s a reason why when ‘Suits’ goes on a streaming platform it gets billions of hours of consumption,” Landgraf said. “It’s because that’s a kind of television people really love.”

(Photo by: Shane Mahood/USA Network) Meghan Markle as Rachel Zane and Patrick J. Adams as Michael Ross in “Suits.”

It’s not super-complicated. It’s sort of a standard legal drama/prime-time soap, with some twists.

Don’t get me wrong. The great thing about 600 scripted series was that there was pretty much something for everyone. Back in the olden days when CBS, NBC and ABC reigned supreme — because they were the only game in town — those networks reached for the widest possible audience by pandering to the lowest common denominator. There’s certainly a nostalgia factor for shows like “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Petticoat Junction,” but they don’t hold up.

In that world, there was no FX and no shows like “Atlanta,” “Pose” and “Reservation Dogs.”

But there has to be a happy medium between the 54 scripted TV series on the Big Three networks in the fall 1972 schedule and the 600 scripted series on broadcast, cable and streaming 50 years later.

So maybe a world with 400 (or fewer) scripted series is nothing to be feared ... unless you’re a Hollywood producer looking to score an easy pickup for the show you’re pitching.