It’s official: Peak TV has peaked.
Last year, 516 scripted television series aired or streamed in the United States, a 14 percent decline from 2022, the FX cable network said on Friday. That was only the second drop in at least 15 years, and the biggest, according to FX’s research.
The total is the most definitive evidence of a slowdown that executives have been predicting for at least a year. Television’s rise — in both the number of shows and the quality of programming — brought it to the forefront of American culture over the last decade.
But orders for shows by the major studios started to drop precipitously in the middle of 2022, around the time that Wall Street soured on entertainment companies’ spend-at-any-cost strategy to make new series.
Last year’s strikes by screenwriters and actors — the first time both unions walked out at the same time since 1960, effectively shutting down scripted production for months — also slowed down the release of new shows. The strikes wiped out the entire fall lineup for scripted network TV, and the fallout is likely to be felt throughout 2024.
The 516 total was the lowest since a decline in 2020, when the pandemic disrupted productions and television lineups globally. Still, even with the decline, last year’s figure ranked as the fourth highest since FX started keeping records (2022, 2021 and 2019 had more), providing viewers with plenty of options but continuing to potentially overwhelm them as well.
In 2009, all of 210 scripted shows aired on network and cable television in the United States, a small increase from years at the beginning of the decade, according to FX.
That number steadily rose over the next few years, and then sharply after Netflix began making original series in 2012. By 2015, there were 422 scripted shows. That prompted John Landgraf, an FX executive, to coin the term “Peak TV,” which industry insiders quickly adopted to describe the streaming television era.
In 2022, there were 600 scripted shows (an increase from an earlier estimate of 599), which is expected to be the high-water mark.
In addition to the fact that virtually every studio has slowed investment in making new television shows, several media companies do not invest in scripted series anymore. Quibi came and went. Google and Facebook aggressively invested in traditional scripted television about five years ago, but both have effectively stopped. The broadcast networks are making fewer scripted shows, as are many cable networks like USA, TBS and Comedy Central.
Executives believe that the number of shows will continue to decline this year.