Commentary

FX Chief Bemoans Big, Bad Programming Glut

I've often wanted to write a piece called “Why Bad Things Happen to Great TV.”  More often than not, the impulse happens when it's an FX series that gets canceled — most recently, when the network pulled the plug on “The Bridge” after two amazing seasons.  Earlier examples of FX shows that sent me into mourning include the terrific off-kilter cop show  “Terriers,” and the pugilist drama “Lights Out,” trailing all the way back to the John Corbett-starring comedy “Lucky “ way back in 2003.

Last week at an FX session at the Television Critics Association meeting, I could tell that the network's chief, John Landgraf, felt my pain. He bemoaned the cancellation of the Billy Crystal-Josh Gad comedy “The Comedians.”  Much like all those noble failures I mentioned, “The Comedians” was heavily promoted and well-reviewed. Landgraf is arguably the savviest programmer in the business, and certainly the one with about the best taste (“Justified,” “The Americans,” “Louie,” all on his watch just for beginners).

Not surprisingly, Landgraf gave a savvy explanation of why too often, too many good series face an untimely demise.   With so many networks and platforms in the originals business,  there's “simply too much television being produced,”  he said.

With so many networks — plus Netflix, Amazon and Hulu — producing series, an embarrassment of riches can mean too often the good series die young. It's especially tough for ad-supported networks to launch a series against a commercial-free Netflix series backed by so much viewer data to pinpoint a target audience.  I'm surprised  Netflix or Amazon doesn't back up the Brink's truck and steal Landgraf away, so he wouldn't have that old ad-supported model to contend with.

The numbers Landgraf offered to back up his claim of a programming overload were daunting.  Nearly 400 original series will be produced this year. That's a number up significantly from (by his calculations) the 280 originals on the air five years ago. Landgraf predicted that the number will continue to rise next year before the inevitable happens: “The programing bubble bursts.”  

Sagely offering his analysis in the shadow of media stock taking a major hit last week, Landgraf said that this is the time to come up with new business models that would support quality programming over quantity. But he didn't offer a blueprint for a saner programming environment. He admitted it would be “a messy, inelegant process" for all involved, especially for advertiser-supported networks.

Landgraf did suggest solutions to the current glut.  For ad-supported networks, reducing advertiser inventory would be one step, while  advertisers, among others, need to support quality over quantity. He made a direct appeal to Madison Avenue to  “radically change”  the way it values programming, and change how it engages audiences across platforms and over time.  Another essential for the industry moving forward is for networks to place fewer bets on originals, in tandem with a shift in marketing money put behind a more select slate of series, he said.

All this makes perfect sense to me.  Whether others in the industry take heed of what Landgraf is saying and, with a stake in the business, choose to work cooperatively is quite another thing.   Unfortunately, I see more bad things happening to good shows — and a big bubble burst.

4 comments about "FX Chief Bemoans Big, Bad Programming Glut".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 12, 2015 at 2:42 p.m.

    Some very strange comments here. Is one of the proposed "solutions" that the various channels and networks dramatically reduce the amount of commercials they run in their programs? Also, with so many more channels involved, why is 400 original series per year a glut? What if it rises to 600? Does that mean that viewers will abandon TV as its "bubble" will then burst? Why is program diversity a bad thing?

    All of this talk about "good" shows dying needless deaths---which has been going on for many decades, by the way----seems to ignore the fact that "good" shows that very few people bother to watch on a regular basis, are cancelled due to low audience levels, and it's a stretch to blame this on the advertisers. Dont the producers bear any responsibility? Why should advertisers support "good" shows that almost nobody watches by paying CPMs three or four times the norm to air their spots in them---as that's what it will take to justify the show's production costs? Is it the advertisers' duty to fund shows that only a few people like? And who gets to define what is and isn't a "good" show, anyway?The producer?

    The final recommendation, above, calls for the networks to reduce the number of original series they air and go with a more "select slate" of series. In other words, even if your ratings are tanking, keep trotting out the same old, but "good?, programs that viewers are abandoning, do a better marketing job promoting them and, it seems, charge advertisers a lot more for many fewer viewers in such shows. Does that really make sense?

  2. Patty Ardis from Ardis Media, LLC, August 12, 2015 at 3:38 p.m.

    You had me at "Terriers", it broke my heart to see that program get the axe! In fact I still think about it from time to time along with "Rubicon" but that was on a different cable network.

    You raise some good points here but one must remind all parties that there is plenty of blame to go around in this process. Ultimately, decisions that are made are almost always financial which care not a whit about creativity and quality.

    However, it almost seems too simplistic to pinpoint one entitiy over the other. Realisticly it will probably get a whole lot messier before anything as far as a solution appears but I have hope. Until then I will continue to watch quality programs such as "Mr. Robot", "Bosch" and "Sneaky Pete" if only "Veronica Mars" could join them/us!


  3. Tony Nino from PADV Pasadena Advertising, August 12, 2015 at 4:13 p.m.

    Thank you Max and Patty for singing the praises of Terriers. I was lucky enough to see it from the very first episode. Leslie Headland is a brilliant writer, and her cast of characters brought her every word to life. What a depth of nuttiness and emotion. Everyone I recommended Terriers to lovvvved it.
    And suddenly it was gone.
    I don't know if it was because there's “simply too much television being produced,” but I guarantee you any of us could have dug up a dozen or so lesser shows that deserved a quick, uncerimonious demise. 
    But at least it aired, and we were lucky enough to see it. Plus there is a wealth of good TV, some of which we can watch in weekly bites, and... some we can gobble whole over a weekend.
    Of course if Terriers does ever reappear, I'm going for the gobble it whole. =)

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 12, 2015 at 11:36 p.m.

    Goes back to: Just because another great new restaurant opened, it doesn't mean you are going to eat 2 dinners tonight. A lot of people would like to have more time to watch more.

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