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Studio 360

Have we reached the TV saturation point?

Entertainment execs, actors and journalists all seem to be in agreement that we’re experiencing a “golden age of television.” ABC, FX, HBO, Showtime, IFC, AMC, Hulu, Amazon, Netflix — all have a cornucopia of new shows on TV now or coming soon. 

John Landgraf, the CEO of FX, however, says there is “simply too much television.” The golden age is really a glut, he argues. It’s overwhelming consumers and, Landgraf thinks, imperiling TV creators’ ability to stay in business.

“Objectively, I think the business model can't sustain this many programs,” Landgraf says. “I think that peak television will be reached sometime this year or next year.”

Landgraf recently gave a speech on the over-saturation of today’s TV industry, and his address freaked out Hollywood. 

“Certainly there have been people who critique my comments by saying ‘Well, you know, that’s just someone who runs a business who doesn't like the fact there's more openness in his business and more people coming in.’ Or even worse, maybe I'm a white man who, you know, is defending nostalgically white male privilege and isn't thrilled about all these women and other people coming in,” Landgraf says. 

The FX executive stands by his theory, however. 

“That's not what I was saying ... I think that this is more than the optimal amount. I think we're giving people so much choice that we're creating this paradox of choice where just making a choice becomes work.”

Landgraf says the over-saturation of television, and the glut of choices in American culture is changing the way Americans interact socially. 

“I just think that if you can't make any shows that aren’t ... watched by 20 million people, the medium is different then. It's not a part of a common dialogue. It becomes a part of this fractured world that we live in in America, where everybody goes to their corner. And the liberal people watch the liberal news and the conservative people watch the conservative news. And we're not having a common experience anymore,” Landgraf says. 

For FX, Landgraf says over-saturation means his network may begin producing fewer shows. 

“What I've realized is we're at the absolute limit of what we can do well,” Landgraf says. 

Still, he believes there’s a place for small shows with fewer viewers. 

“More points of view is a good thing. If stories are empathy machines that allow us to see through the eyes of and live in the skin of other people, then many different kinds of people telling stories that are important to them is probably a good thing,” Landgraf says. “This comes back to the paradox of choice ... to some extent you could find yourself infinitely and endlessly exploring for that perfect thing.” 

This story first aired on PRI's Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen.

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