1. There’s No Such Thing as ‘Too Much TV’
Part of the problem with the "too much TV" discussion — started by John Landgraf at the summer TCAs when he claimed there were too many "good" original shows distracting fans from "great" shows — is how long it’s gone on, so we’ll keep this brief: "Good" and "great" are subjective terms, so — as appealing as they are to critics constantly trying to convince people to watch "The Americans" instead of "Empire" — one person’s favorite show may be another person’s least favorite show. And that’s the beauty of having choices. Everyone doesn’t have to watch the same thing. Each viewer can find what works and what is most vital to them at any given moment and watch it. What’s wrong with that? Nothing. So even if we got sucked into the debate once or twice, let’s all remember heading into 2016 that more original content means more choices (plus, more jobs for actors and creators) and leave it at that.
2. Netflix is Already Releasing Viewing Statistics (and Might Release More)
You guys! We did it! We lived to see the day Netflix would tell us exactly how many people were watching one of their original properties! Okay, so it wasn’t a TV show, but learning that more than 3 million subscribers watched "Beasts of No Nation" in its first 10 days of release was a huge step forward in transparency for the secretive streaming service. So, too, was finding out Cary Fukunaga’s beautiful but bleak war movie ended up the No. 1 most-watched film in all Netflix territories during that time period.
Netflix’s motivation for releasing the numbers may have been selfish — the film needs to be seen as successful in order to make an Oscar run as well as to drive interest in future acquisitions — but few suspected Ted Sarandos to give up those figures. Now that he has, there’s precedent for future releases, as well.
But that’s not all. A picture started to form in 2015; a picture of just how popular certain Netflix originals are among subscribers. Third-party investigators told us that "Daredevil" was the most popular original program released by Netflix in the first half of 2015, and Netflix even put out some figures on when viewers got hooked on all their streaming content. While it’s far from enough, progress was made in 2015. Here’s hoping for even more in the following year.
3. Streaming Has Caught Up With Cable, Even at the Emmys
HBO may have had its best year ever at the Emmys, snagging a record 126 nominations and winning the two top prizes (Oustanding Drama for "Game of Thrones" and Comedy for "Veep"), but they still weren’t the awards story of 2015. Netflix, which set a personal best with 36 Emmy nods, and Amazon, which scored its first nominations and first wins in 2015, proved once and for all that everyone — even stingy old Academy members — is embracing the hot new medium of the TV world. They may not be the powerhouse of the awards season just yet, but by earning the respect necessary to even sit at the table, they’re well on their way — especially if you look to the Globes.
The 2016 Golden Globe nominations (unveiled in late 2015) may be the defining moment in TV’s transition to streaming. After 14 years with the most nominations per network, HBO gave up its crown to Netflix. The premium cable player fell from 15 nods to seven, while Netflix snagged eight plus a film nomination for "Beasts of No Nation." So, if you do the math, the last time HBO wasn’t the leader in Globe nominations, "The Sopranos" was in its first season. And since "The Sopranos" is widely regarded as the beginning of the Golden Age of TV, it goes to show that we may be entering into a new era with Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and more — not just continuing an old one.
4. TV Isn’t the New Film. Films are Simply Turning Into TV.
During the Golden Age of Television, people have been eager to label TV as "the new" something. Many writers claim TV is the new novel, but most others say it’s the new film. Much has been said about the death of the mid-budget movie and the rise of character-driven TV, but there’s another connection between the big and small screen brethren that’s never been more apparent. Between the Marvel, DC, Star Wars and upcoming "monster" universes being churned out at every studio imaginable, blockbusters are the new TV.
Just look at the facts: These properties are designed to have multiple entries (episodes). They’re never-ending (seasons). They’re dependent on you watching previous entries to appreciate new ones (just like TV). They sometimes struggle to provide adequate arcs in individual entries and explain it away by saying it will all come together in the next one. The "universe" concept isn’t unique to film, either. It’s happening on Netflix right now as "Daredevil," "Jessica Jones" and "Luke Cage" intersect. But even that ties into the film world with stories motivated by events in "The Avengers."
Maybe this is more of a trend for films than TV, but one could also argue the opposite, as well: that TV is drawing inspiration from film franchises. No matter how you cut it, the idea of never-ending stories is dominating screens big and small. And before Disney gets all the credit, let’s remember who established long-form entertainment as not only a profitable business model, but the most popular entertainment medium.
5. TV Doesn’t Have a Time Limit Anymore
Remember when a TV series was just that: a series? Maybe it fluctuated between 20-24 episodes or, if you look at more current offerings, between 10-24, but it was still a series. It would be broken up into seasons for as long as it could sustain itself (or as long as the ratings demanded), and fans knew what to expect when they tuned in: more — either a new episode or a new season coming next week or next year. Sure, there were miniseries and TV movies, but those were clearly defined. In 2015, we found the undefinable. And there’s way more of them coming up.
Referred to as "specials" or "events," programs like "7 Days in Hell," "A Very Murray Christmas" and "Ferrell Takes the Field" were widely-watched (or, at least, talked about) entries that didn’t quite fit established expectations. They weren’t movies because they were on TV. They weren’t TV movies because they weren’t long enough. They certainly weren’t series because no one is expecting a Season 2, or, if the 50-ish minutes of content were looked at as Episode 1, we’ve been waiting a long time for the follow-up.
Moreover, even the idea of a traditional series isn’t the same anymore. In 2015, we saw the trendy anthology series "True Detective" and "Fargo" roll out sequel seasons that looked almost nothing like their past entries — almost. Sure, "True Detective" was a whole new ballgame, but "Fargo" shared a character from its first season (as well as a few other more obscure connections). Overall, the new entries have brought on a blurring of the line that used to differentiate what we see on TV. Now, audiences pretty much have to do research to understand what they’re getting into: Is it a series or an anthology series? Is it a "special" or a miniseries? Is it ongoing or a one-off? Time matters when it comes to TV in terms of audience investment, but it’s no longer the defining factor it was for the networks.
6. Bingeing Just Went Mainstream
For a while now, people have found ways to binge watch television on their own terms. Be it via the ease of Netflix or the difficulty of DVDs, people have wanted to watch their favorite series when and how they want. While that may not be new to 2015, the networks — namely broadcast networks — made more strides to cater to binge viewers than ever before. "Aquarius," NBC’s ’60s-set cop show about David Duchovny punching hippies, marked the first major shift. The Peacock released the first season of the anticipated serial drama all at once online and on VOD, establishing a standard that others would soon follow. Basic cable shows like "UnREAL" and "Public Morals" provided sneak peaks at their first seasons in similar fashion, releasing multiple hours of content so anyone with interest could watch as much as they wanted (almost) before the season hit the airwaves. Starz followed suit for the premium cable networks, pushing out "Flesh and Bone" online before its traditional debut.
But perhaps the decision with the most long-term effects snuck in under the radar. In early September, Hulu started providing the option to watch all of its content ad-free. While that may just seem like a nice perk for anyone with an extra $5/month, it’s proven to be far more meaningful. Hulu has built up a nice little library of content over the past few years — content that’s not only still on the air, but updates weekly with new entries. That means if you want to start "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" today, you can not only binge the first two seasons without interruption, but also catch all the way up to Season 3’s midseason break. The same goes for "Empire" (1.5 seasons), "The Last Man on Earth" (1.5 seasons), "The Mindy Project" (3.5 seasons), "South Park" (with 18.5 seasons) and more.
These actions have mixed results. "Aquarius" earned a Season 2 renewal, but "Public Morals" got the ax despite strong reviews. Yes, "UnREAL" became a flat-out hit, but few people are talking about "Flesh and Bone." Yet what the "watch whenever" model does is put more power in the viewers’ hands, and that’s never a bad thing. Bingeing has always been the standard. But thanks to decisions made in 2015, it’s never been easier.
7. For Better or Worse, TV Will Never End
No, we’re not talking about the overblown VR takeover. Frankly, it’s too early to tell how that will affect, say, the way fans will be watching "The Walking Dead" Season 12. But as of now, it does seem safe to say there will be a "Walking Dead" Season 12. We can’t tell you when you’ll see it, but 2015 saw an unprecedented glut of extensions and revivals, leading to the belief that even when a TV show is canceled, it may not be the end.
Between spinoffs like "Fear the Walking Dead" and "Better Call Saul" to revival announcements for "Twin Peaks" and "The X-Files," 2015 saw more ways than ever for series to just keep going. Even poor performing programs that may have been canceled in years past earned renewals, like "The Leftovers" at HBO and "Aquarius" at NBC. Both networks are investing in content, content and more content, as HBO is looking to fill HBO NOW with enough attractive offerings to lure the many subscribers now able to pay for the premium cable’s library online. NBC, meanwhile, was certainly dabbling in online releasing, as well, but are also connected to SeeSo, the new streaming service from NBC Universal. Ventures like these led to the "too much TV discussion," but really they’re just providing more options for viewers and better odds at survival for new programs.
Perhaps representing this shift toward longevity are the characters within these never-ending shows, as 2015 saw a number of high-profile "deaths" that were either proven untrue or could be in the new year. Between Glenn on "The Walking Dead," Jon Snow on "Game of Thrones" and even Ray Velcoro in "True Detective" Season 2, TV fans are being taught not to trust anything they see on TV when it comes to twists. There always seems to be a way to survive, for better or for worse.
Indiewire’s Year-End TV Coverage:
The Top 10 TV Shows of 2015
The 10 Best New TV Shows of 2015
The 25 Best TV Episodes of 2015
The 15 Best TV Scenes of 2015, From ‘Ash vs. Evil Dead’ to ‘You’re the Worst’
The Best Breakout TV Actors of 2015
The 15 Biggest Dick Moves of the Year, or What Enraged TV Fans in 2015
The Most Shocking TV Moments of 2015, Ranked
The Most Disappointing TV Series of 2015