TV Overload: Is There Too Much to Watch on Television?

Source: Sony Pictures TV
Source: Sony Pictures TV

It’s getting harder and harder to keep up with all the latest TV shows. New pilots and must-watch series are becoming something of a regularity, making it difficult to keep it all straight in one’s head. Now, we have statistical evidence to confirm that it’s not just you: 2015 was an insane year for new TV. According to a study conducted by FX, the last year saw a record 409 scripted series hit the airwaves. When you consider that number makes for a shade over 1 show for every day in 2015, it starts to become abundantly clear: There’s a lot of damn TV to watch.

Digging deeper into the numbers, we see that this is almost entirely a case of the modern TV generation’s want for more. We’ve seen a 94% increase in scripted series since 2009, while basic cable alone saw a 174% growth in that category in the same period. There’s quite literally something for everyone, whether you’re a sci-fi fanatic or an enthusiast of mindless comedy. In some ways, this works to the benefit of an ever-changing demographic of viewers. As interests become more diverse, so does our entertainment, requiring more offerings from each network to keep everyone sated.

The sword is very much double-edged in this case though. Imagine you’re a fan of comic books. Your options between 2015 and the next year are/will be: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter, The Flash, Arrow, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Preacher, The Walking Dead, Luke Cage, Legends of Tomorrow, and Lucifer. If your first instinct is to watch every single one of these series in their entirety, then congratulations are in order. The average viewer is going to feel more overwhelmed than excited, making it difficult to emotionally invest in all of these, plus any other TV shows outside of the comic book realm they may follow as well.

FX Network CEO John Landgraf echoes this concern, speaking at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour earlier this year. “There is simply too much television,” he aptly points out, going on to caution that a crowded field makes it “impossible to maintain quality control.” If any and all proposed shows get the green light from their respective networks, then soon, the people making our TV lose the ability to discern between a truly great series and one that will simply add another voice to the din.

Conversely, it also makes television something of a playground for new ideas. Shows like Game of Thrones never would have been able to find a home anywhere on TV before networks began taking more risks on a larger swathe of genres. The increase in offerings has shown a clear commitment to more experimentation, supported by streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. When you green-light more shows, it becomes a game of odds: More shows equals more chances for the next breakout hit.

Bigger isn’t always better though. While the increase in scripted series allows for better odds, it also makes it harder for audiences to narrow down their viewing choices. Having to pick and choose among 400-plus options inevitably leaves some potentially great television collecting dust. And if a potentially great TV show getting overwhelmed by the tidal wave of other choices can’t garner enough immediate support, it finds itself canceled before anyone realizes what happened. Landgraf predicts that “2016 or 2017 will represent peak TV in America, and then we will see a decline,” so perhaps the ship will right itself soon. For now though, good luck choosing what to watch. You’ll need it.

Follow Nick on Twitter @NickNorthwest

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