The idea that we might be reaching peak TV is currently in the air. John Landgraf, who is CEO of FX said as much during the recent TV Critics Association summer press tour:
“By our best current estimates, we believe 2015 will easily blow through the 400 series mark. I’m also asked when and if this proliferation of scripted series will level out and/or even decline. But just when I think we are at that point, another network jumps into the scripted game. I, long ago, lost the ability to keep track of every scripted TV series, as I know you do, even though we all do this for a living professionally; but, this year, I finally lost track of the ability to keep track of every programmer who is in the scripted programming business. And as you critics know better than anyone in America, this is simply too much television.”
So here we are. Far from having too much television over the summer, I had not enough. Our French TV has stopped working (the aerial has somehow become disconnected, long story). So when I got back to the UK and my Now TV box, I was eager to catch up on stuff I’d missed. For the record, the only TV I managed to watch over the summer were two series I was keen enough to download episodes from iTunes: Humans, and Jordskott, the latter of which was really for my obsessed daughters more than myself.
While I was away, I missed the final three episodes of True Detective season 2, and there were only two left on the box when I returned. But, although I was kinda enjoying it, and I watched episode 7 just before it disappeared, I didn’t pay much attention. It just wasn’t good enough for me to worry too much about it. So I doubt I’ll watch the finale.
In any other era, True Detective would have remained Must See TV, but now there’s always something else to watch instead. And that’s the point about Too Much TV. In times gone by, I would complain that TV Networks were too ruthless to give programmes a chance to grow an audience. We all lamented the passing of Firefly, which was probably killed by its own fans downloading episodes rather than watching them live. Now we live in a different era: a lot of whats out there is on download services like Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu, and some shows are dumped online wholesale, primed for binge watching. But these days, it’s the audience who are forced into the position of being ruthless. You watch an episode of something, a single episode, and if it doesn’t grab you, you give it up: because there’s always something else to watch. If something is being raved about, like Sense8, you might give it more time (I did), but you’ll still give up after three, four episodes (I did).
Since coming home I’ve checked out a number of new things. (James Patterson’s) Zoo was always going to be stupid and ridiculous, but would it have been so bad it’s good? No. It’s just silly, and I’m not even willing to hate-watch it. I’ve watched a bit of The Strain, but I’m not sure if I’ll see it through. I also watched an episode of Backstrom, which I quite liked, but it has already been cancelled, so what’s the point? Aquarius, a fictionalised account of the Manson murders was alright for one episode, but I’m already a bit bored of it. I watched a bit of The Fixer, but that was rubbish (had the geezer from the equally rubbish The Last Ship in it). I’ve seen a couple of Agent Carters, but (as with all superhero fare), bof. I tried Dag, but was underwhelmed (I rarely find modern comedies funny).
And now we get to the point. In this era, it’s not good enough to be good enough. Decent stuff just drowns in the flood. There is so much excellent TV that nobody needs to watch the merely adequate. And the chance that you’ll come across something good/excellent is increasingly unlikely. I’ve been on Amazon Prime for a couple of months now, and I’ve watched nothing. The big network shows of the recent past like the various CSI: franchises are slick, competent, entertaining, but no match for Game of Thrones or (if that’s your thing) The Wire etc. And they all seem to go on for too long – or have long ago passed the ends of their natural lives. Zombie shows, which can’t compete with The Walking Dead. 24 episodes? Really? To bother with a big network show you have to love it – notwithstanding its need to appeal to a broad audience. So I find the shows of this kind that I still watch have something about them that makes them slightly odd or quirky, an acquired taste. I still love Person of Interest, for my own reasons, and I watched both seasons of The Blacklist because, well, James Spader, and it still seems fresh. But there are vast swathes of TV I don’t even glance at these days. The BBC and ITV have nothing for me.
Into this world of too much TV, Apple are about to release a new TV product. Will it make good stuff easier to find? Because that’s what is urgently needed. A discovery feature. But can Apple deliver? As far as I’m concerned, they didn’t manage it with Music, so I’m skeptical that they could do it with TV.