The Disproportionate Collapse of Peak TV

The Disproportionate Collapse of Peak TV

At the start of the month, I posted about the 2020 numbers for TV and how terrible they were. We’re seeing more and more shows canceled every day. In fact, since I wrote that, more shows were canceled.

The Gold Standard: Money

In a recent interview for TV’s Top 5, Alex Kurtzman was asked about how his budget for Star Trek had changed due to COVID. And Kurtzman dropped a bomb that freaked out the hosts: PPE alone has added between $300,000 and $500,000 to each and every episode.

This is flatly obvious why shows like GLOW (with wrestling scenes) and The Society (with it’s massive group scenes) were canceled. It also does explain the turn-around on Stumptown, which is expensive to produce to start with (Cobie Smulders is a more star, y’all, and they have Camryn Manheim as a supporting character! Plus Portland ain’t cheap). A lot of teen series, similarly, are getting the axe because by the time it’s safe enough to film again, those suckers are aging. Sure you could due a time-jump, but that doesn’t work for every show.

But above all else? It’s very much the money. Only people with deep pockets are going to be able to handle this. And that means the Golden Age is probably over.

Golden Age: Quarantined

Just 18 months ago, we were living in a rarefied era. The Golden Age of Peak TV was limitless. With the advent and popularity of Streaming Media, we were eclipsing the peak, over and over, doubling the number of scripted series between 2012 and 2019.

The folks over at FX have been keeping tabs on Peak TV numbers since before their network boss John Landgraf coined the term. Their math worked out to a 15% drop in shows from 2019 to 2020 (per RollingStone). So with 532-ish scripted shows in 2019, we’re looking at 450 in 2020, and I would not be shocked to see the number drop even more.

But there’s something odd about the shows getting second chances and the ones being sent to production at all.

Let me explain it this way. Dexter is coming back. Stumptown is not.

Golden Gains, Lost

If that just made you Spock the Eyebrow and ask “Wait, Dexter can’t be a cheap show. Those actors are well known and the show had a lot of close contacts and high production values…”, you are not alone. In fact, RollingStone noticed too:

It’s tough not to notice that most of the un-renewals so far (as well as abrupt cancellations for relative newcomers like Netflix’s Teenage Bounty Hunters) have been series about, and often made by, women. As the cuts go deeper and wider, odds are that all kinds of shows will suffer similar fates. But when it comes time to green-light new series under these conditions, it feels like stories from and about underrepresented voices, or stories told in unique ways, will have a much tougher go of it. 

“Has Covid Leveled Peak TV?” – Alan Sepinwall for RollingStone

It was only in the last 20 months that we were finally breaking the moulds and getting more, riskier, TV made by and about underrepresented voices. Hollywood has always been quick to cancel shows like Vida and The Baker and the Beauty citing underperforming ratings while simultaneously not putting in the effort to promote the series. This is especially true for streaming services like Netflix.

In fact, here’s a Netflix only bloodbath for the last two (2) years:

  • GLOW
  • Teenage Bounty Hunters
  • Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina
  • I Am Not OK With This
  • Marianne
  • Spinning Out
  • The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance
  • Santa Clarita Diet
  • Anne With An E
  • Jessica Jones
  • The OA

Those are all shows about and/or produced by women. And while Netflix has produced a record 113 new shows for 2020, not all are women led, and some are already canceled (or unlikely to be renewed). Even Giri/Haji, new this year, got the axe.

It’s not Just Netflix

I don’t want people to think that this is only Netflix. Certainly, Netflix has a massive TV problem right now, but this happens on ABC, NBC, and basically everywhere except the CW right now. I’d like to think that the CW learned from the whole Bury Your Queers drama in 2016, and has come ’round to “Oh hey, women like action shit too!”

But the reason a lot of us point at Netflix as the canary in the coal mine is that historically Streaming has been where the misfits find a home. A show no one would take a chance on had hope on Netflix or Hulu. Got canceled early by Fox? Come on over, Lucifer!

And those days are going away, perhaps a victim of the binge dynamic. Netflix is taking fewer chances, and so is everyone else.

The Dark Ages Loom

I’m aware I’m ending this on a hella somber note. There likely won’t be a good, effective, vaccine until spring 2021. Even though some network TV shows are coming back (and honestly I’m still shocked about Dancing With The Stars), it’s obvious they’re only going to put money into high performers that don’t cost the bank. And how those shows look? Well tune in to CBS next week, because NCIS and All Rise are coming back.

But I have this feeling that, if CBS has to pick between those shows, they will go with the ongoing star power of Jethro Gibbs, over Judge Lola Carmichael.

About Mika A. Epstein

Mika has been deep in fandom since she could say 'Trekkie.' With decades experience in running fansites, developing software, and organizing communities, she's taken on the challenge of delving into the recesses of television for queers long forgotten. Making this site with Tracy is nothing short of serendipity. Mika lives with her wife and their cats in Southern California. Of course she has a hybrid, but she'd rather ride her bicycle.
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