Peak TV is back. After a dip in 2020 — the first decline since FX began tallying the number of scripted series every year — the number of original scripted series on television once again hit a record in 2021.
According to FX Research, which has been counting the number of shows on TV since it got into the scripted game with “The Shield” in 2002, there were 559 adult scripted original series across broadcast, cable and streaming services last year. That’s up a whopping 66 from 2020 (a 13 percent change), when there were 493 shows. The previous high was 2019’s 532 series.
This past year’s comeback was likely fueled by series that were delayed in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic-related production shutdowns. But it’s also likely the result of several more streamers entering the game since the decade began, including Peacock, HBO Max and a rebranded Paramount Plus, which are now humming with ever-increasing volume.
In comparison, on the eve of the streaming revolution in 2011, there were 266 original scripted series on television — 116 on broadcast, 33 on pay cable, 111 on basic cable, and 6 — you read that right, SIX — on streaming/online services. And when FX got into the game with “The Shield” in 2002, there were 182 scripted series on TV (135 on broadcast, 17 on pay cable, 30 on basic cable, and none on streaming/online since that didn’t really exist yet).
Unlike past years, FX opted not to break down the tally by broadcast, network or streaming. And the list doesn’t include non-English language shows (i.e., no “Squid Game”), children’s programs or short-form content (like the former Quibi originals that debuted on Roku).
FX’s tally does include PBS shows in broadcast, as well as all premium and most Nielsen-rated basic cable networks (as well as Spectrum Originals). Its list of streaming shows include entries from Acorn TV, ALLBLK, Amazon, AMC Plus, Apple TV Plus, BET Plus, BritBox, Crackle, Disney Plus, Facebook Watch, HBO Max, Hulu, IMDb TV, Netflix, Paramount Plus, Peacock, Roku, Shudder, Sundance Now, Tubi and YouTube.
FX Networks chief John Landgraf had made the state of scripted TV and the “Peak TV” measurement a part of his regular Television Critics Association press tour appearance, but the network pulled back on the presentation in recent years. Landgraf had once predicted that the “Peak TV” volume would indeed, peak, as it was not sustainable for the business. But the streaming media explosion changed that prediction. Landgraf has acknowledged that that growth has proved more sustainable than he originally thought, driven by the rush of media giants into the subscription-video space pioneered by streamer Netflix.
Here’s the chart from FX mapping the scripted series tally over the years: