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John Landgraf Says Cost-Cutting Is Good for White Men, Not for Diversity

FX's John Landgraf also predicted Peak TV would end this year, but he's been wrong about that a few times before.

THE BEAR FX on Hulu Jeremy Allen White and Lionel Boyce

Jeremy Allen White and Lionel Boyce in “The Bear”

Courtesy of FX

The Peak TV era might finally be reaching its end. Last August, Chairman of FX Networks John Landgraf, the man who coined the phrase most often used to describe the current era of television, said 2022 would see the number of adult, scripted, English-language television series reach its absolute height. At FX’s January 12 press conference for TCA’s Winter Press Tour, he maintained the prediction — and said that it might not be great for diversity.

During his presentation, Landgraf pointed to a recent New York Times story about how orders for adult scripted series fell by 24 percent in the second half of 2022 and the general signs of slowdown from streamers and networks as they brace for a recession this year, as a reason why Peak TV is nearing its end. During a Q&A, Landgraf was asked how this cost-cutting in content will reflect in terms of shows made by and for diverse audiencs, and answered frankly that he was concerned about its impact.

“In the country which we live in, about 60 percent of the population identifies as white, and you take Latinx people who identify as Caucasian, it’s maybe closer to 70 percent if you’re going for the biggest meat of the audience … you tend to program for white men, because women watch a lot more drama and comedy than men, so if you get a scripted program that appeals to men, that’s automatically a boom,” Landgraf said during the Q&A. “You worry, when there’s narrowing prospects, who’s losing opportunity.”

During his presentation — where he noted “humbly” that he had been wrong about Peak TV’s end twice before, in 2015 and 2019 — Landgraf revealed that 599 original scripted series were released last year, according to data compiled from FX’s research team. That number represents a 7 percent uptick from the 559 shows in 2021, which itself was up 13 percent from the COVID-fueled decline in 2020 and up 23 percent from five years earlier.

Landgraf made his initial prediction about Peak TV reaching its zenith based on initial data that 357 new scripted shows launched during the first half of 2022, which represents a staggering 16 percent increase from 2021. Part of the reason for that massive rise was that several shows intended for 2021 or 2020 finally came out during the first half of the year.

“Due to the pandemic, getting a true read on where scripted-series output might hit its top has been hard,” Landgraf said at the time. “This year we’ve seen a tidal wave of scripted programming thanks to the bottleneck of COVID-delayed production finally clearing up.”

chart showing the rise in scripted series from year to year

In making his case for why 2022 will mark the decline of Peak TV, Landgraf discussed how the second half of the year saw a decline in series released compared to both the first half and the same period in 2021, as an early sign that TV production is slowing down from the heights caused by the initial streaming explosion.

During the Q&A, Landgraf also spoke about the issues with Peak TV from a consumer perspective, saying that it makes content discovery far more difficult than when networks release only a few, more curated series. He pointed to the acclaimed FX-on-Hulu series “The Bear” as an example of a series that managed to stand out because it had its own niche, even in the increasingly crowded marketplace.

“You can’t market 599 series like ‘The Bear,'” Landgraf said.

Tony Maglio contributed reporting.

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