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Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Good TV? Can There Ever Be Too Much of a Good Thing?
September 15, 2015  | By Alex Strachan  | 2 comments

A friend borrowed the DVD box set of The Killing (below) first season from the local library the other day. Was the second season also filmed in Vancouver, he wanted to know.

All four seasons were filmed in Vancouver, I told him. The show had a strange provenance, I added: The first two seasons were produced for AMC, the third season was produced for DirecTV, and a shortened fourth and final season was made by Netflix.

Several weeks went by. I finally asked him, curious: So, how did you like The Killing?

“Oh, I returned it,” he replied. “I didn’t have time to watch four seasons.”

That might not have been what FX Networks CEO John Landgraf meant when he told members of the Television Critics Association at the group’s meeting last month in Beverly Hills that there is simply too much good television on the air right now.

“My sense is that 2016 or 2017 will represent peak TV in America, and then we will see a decline,” he was quoted as saying by numerous media outlets.

“There is too much competition,” he added. “It is hard to find good shows . . . I believe it’s impossible to maintain quality control.”

Landgraf may simply have foreseen an Emmy season in which neither The Americans, Justified nor Sons of Anarchy — all FX programs, all Emmy worthy and two of them in their final seasons, with one last shot at Emmy recognition — would even be nominated.

In that, he was hardly alone. Rival network Showtime saw The Affair, Masters of Sex, Ray Donovan and Penny Dreadful ignored for drama series consideration as well, though Showtime’s Homeland, a previous Emmy winner, did make the cut.

HBO and Cinemax saw The Leftovers and The Knick left out in the cold, while The Good Wife failed to make good on past Emmy successes.

ABC’s American Crime did make the grade, but in the separate category of limited series, where it will compete against the likes of The Honorable Woman, Olive Kitteridge, Wolf Hall and American Horror Story: Freak Show — not exactly limp competition and, again, leaving no room for Sherlock and The Missing.

Landgraf — often fearless and always outspoken — reiterated his comments a week later at the Edinburgh TV Festival.

“It’s like winning a pie-eating contest every day,” he was quoted as saying. “In some ways, we’re choking on our own abundance.”

Landgraf told his Edinburgh audience that he looks at the different voices in TV as being a great benefit to the medium, but that eventually one reaches “the paradox of choices,” in which too much choice breeds resentment. 

The difficulty for TV executives today, those who value quality over quantity anyway, is finding a workable balance between creative storytelling and running a business.

“Ultimately the business wants to make money,” Landgraf told his audience that day. “If money can be made making an infinite number of television shows, then it will do that. [But] I see the business end eating its creative tail right now.”

You know TV drama is truly in a new golden age when TV executives complain there’s too much of a good thing.

Landgraf’s remarks prompted a predicted backlash on social media, where many commenters, hiding behind anonymous handles, accused Landgraf of being unable to find hit shows for his own network. That’s not an argument I would care to make, not when even FX’s misses — The Bridge, for example — have something to recommend them, and survived at least two seasons, and FX’s hits, like Fargo and American Horror Story, stand at the forefront of what American TV drama has to offer today.

The Emmys are this weekend. By the time host Andy Samberg calls it a night — which could be as late as Monday morning, depending on the time zone — Television Academy voters will have named Mad Men, Game of Thrones, House of Cards (right), Downton Abbey, Homeland, Orange is the New Black or Better Call Saul TV’s best.

The casual viewer — who, let’s face it, represents most Nielsen households — will have no way of knowing that Peabody Award, Television Critics Association and Critics Choice Television Award winner The Americans (top) even exists. Nor will they know that other Peabody winners The Knick, Jane the Virgin and Rectify were also left out in the cold.

The Americans may well be the season’s most unfairly overlooked American TV program on American TV’s biggest awards night. 

That’s not news, of course — not when past would-be Emmy contenders like The Wire, Oz, Homicide: Life on the Street, My So-Called Life and The Shield were denied a series Emmy, or even a nomination in most cases.

The bottom line, though, for the casual viewer and occasional TV critic alike is that there can never be too much of a good thing.

The proliferation of mobile devices, the explosion of social media, the exponential growth in streaming services and options for viewing outside the home and the growing influence of Emmy-outsider awards like the Peabodys and TCA Awards — even as the Emmys, like the Oscars before them, strive to become more populist and remain relevant to a mainstream audience — means that even relatively obscure, hard-to-find dramas like Rectify, Top of the Lake and The Fall can find an audience.

My friend will catch up with The Killing eventually, just as I myself caught up with early seasons of Sons of Anarchy and Ray Donovan after seeing their most recent season.

I will catch up with House of Cards one day, perhaps when getting access to Netflix where I live isn’t like trying to get a live feed out of Azerbaijan.

The truth is there is too much of everything. The hard part is separating the good from the not-so-good, or Mad Men (left) from Mad Money

As Showtime president David Nevins told reporters last month in Beverly Hills, there are 12 million broadband-only homes and 80 million multichannel-video homes that don’t subscribe to Showtime, leaving more than enough room to expand creatively.

“There may be too much good TV,” Nevins said. “There’s never enough great TV. That’s my sense of it. We’re all trying hard to make great TV. I can’t imagine anyone would say there’s too much great TV. There’s a lot of stupid money going in a lot of different directions. You hear of two-season commitments coming off story pitches.

“We feel we’re still in an expansion mode [at Showtime] but we’re expanding at a rate where we feel like we can still do meaningful television, and great television.”

Diversity of choice, he said, simply gives you “more access to more stuff. You’ll never have less.”

Less isn’t always more, in other words.

Bring on the Emmys.

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Nicely done column about what is probably the most ironic problem facing electronic media. Whether the shows available are good, bad or great, there's only so much time that even the most ravenous aficionado can devote to watching. At some point, the cost of production will make a lot of these shows unfeasible. Too bad, but that's the way it goes. Thanks, by the way, for the Peabody plugs.
Sep 16, 2015   |  Reply
I heard of all these shows and watch half. The worst thing about watching a normal person's work week (time) worth of TV (mostly good, some bad) is how my dvr re-acts on what to record and when. I am so lucky some shows re-air later in the week and happy to watch OnDemand when I can. Who knew it was so hard to watch a TV screen?
Sep 15, 2015   |  Reply
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