When we talk about the phenomenon of “peak TV”—a term coined back in 2015 by FX’s John Landgraf, whose network, it’s worth noting, helped kick off the rise of cable (and later streaming) scripted shows that have led to our current glut of scripted stuff—we’re really talking about “peak attention.” (Although the effects of rampant production on the availability of trained professionals to execute dangerous work like stunts has also become a concern.) That’s something made woefully clear today when FX—which clearly thinks about this kind of thing a lot, understandably—released some statistics showing, in strictly scientific terms, that there are just way too many fucking TV shows right now.
Compiled by the cable network’s research team, the report finds that, sure enough, 2018 featured more scripted TV programs than any year that’s come before, falling just short of the stamina-draining 500 series mark. What’s most interesting about the study, though, is where those shows are coming from: The broadcast network series have stayed relatively stable—not entirely surprising, given their tightly regulated schedules—while cable has actually slowed down a bit from the content rampages it was going on just a few years back. The biggest push, of course, is from the world of online streamers, who are now offering a record 160 scripted shows, a huge jump up from the 117 the platform offered last year, and the first time there’s been more shows debuting online than in broadcast or cable.
Of course, that push into online, on-demand content also helps to explain why the current TV market isn’t quite as dire as it might seem to Landgraf and his team at FX; between the rise of DVRs, and especially the advent of schedule-free programming, there’s a bit more room in our collective brains (and lives) for additional shows, now that we can watch them whenever the hell we want, rather than being beholden to the specter of “prime-time.” That might not be great for networks still tied to the old “regular TV schedule with commercials” advertising market—and god knows what the sudden rise of ever-more niche streamers like Disney+ will mean for our dwindling attention spans—but for now it feels less like an apocalypse of too much good TV is happening, and more like an ongoing evolution in the ways it gets delivered. (Even if it doesn’t necessarily feel that way when we’re staring down the barrel of 495 current scripted shows, going nuts trying to figure out what the fuck to watch.)