“There’s 57 channels and nothin’ on,” Bruce Springsteen crooned back in 1992. Nowadays, there’s a heck of a lot to watch, across a ton of platforms — network and cable channels, streaming services, and even YouTube.
The number of scripted TV shows produced in the US hit an all-time high last year, cracking the 500 series mark. According to cable network FX, which tallies the number each year, 532 comedies, dramas or limited series were available to either broadcast or stream in 2019.
"Given that the streaming wars are now at hand, that total will increase substantially this year,” FX CEO John Landgraf told reporters, “which to me is just bananas." The exec is known within the industry as the so-called Mayor of Television, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Notably, the tally doesn’t include reality shows, daytime TV or children’s series. If you do include them, there were more than 1,000 different shows to watch last year.
The amount of entertainment on offer has skyrocketed in recent years. The 2019 television total was a 7 percent increase from 2018 and a 52 percent increase over the 349 series that existed in 2013, the year House of Cards debuted on Netflix and streaming became a habit for many Americans. It’s a 153 percent jump from the 210 shows on TV in 2009.
It’s frankly impossible for most people to keep up with all the new shows on offer. And it’s becoming increasingly hard for great shows to break through the deluge unless they win major awards, like HBO’s Succession or Amazon Prime’s Fleabag have.
There’s so much TV that even people who watch it for a living can’t see everything. “The idea that you could cover it all is gone,” Slate television critic Willa Paskin told The New York Times. She estimated she’d watched around 150 of the 532 series that aired in 2019. “There were lots of shows I hadn’t seen, but I’d heard of,” Paskin said. “But there were also totally a handful of shows that I was like, ‘I don’t even know what that is.’”
Same. And the number of things to watch will only climb in 2020, as even more streaming platforms, like HBO Max and Quibi, enter the crowded field.
One downward trend in TV did stand out in FX’s report: as big-budget players throw billions at original scripted content — Netflix sank $15 billion into proprietary IP last year, and Apple spent an estimated $120 million on the first season of The Morning Show — basic cable networks have massively retreated from the pricey genre. Channels like Bravo, CMT, VH1, E! and TV Land (except for its show Younger) have all totally exited the scripted TV business.
Some cable networks, like the prescient FX, have preemptively struck deals with streaming platforms to cross-pollinate. FX’s knight in shining armor could be Hulu, for example.