Meeting the Need for Peak TV

PASADENA, Calif. — Peak TV was certainly the buzz phrase on the minds of both executives and celebrities at the Television Critics Association winter tour, as programmers and show creators continue to contemplate how to stand out from the crowd.

Yet FX’s reported figure of 456 scripted series aired and streamed by cable and over-the-top services in 2016 did not stop cable networks from showcasing new scripted fare that will undoubtedly push that number toward the 500 mark in 2017 — as FX has already predicted.

With scripted projects debuting in 2017 from AMC (The Son) History (Six), IFC (Brockmire), Spike (The Mist), TNT (Claws), VH1 (Daytime Divas) and TV Land (Nobodies) that were presented to more than 200 TV writers during the Jan. 12-13 CTAM-produced cable portion of the biannual press tour, executives say the glut of content will force networks to make more quality shows for viewers.


“There is simply no way to break through that programming clutter without being exceptional,” said National Geographic Global Networks CEO Courteney Monroe, said during Nat Geo’s Jan. 13 presentation.

After launching its scripted-and-documentary hybrid series Mars last October, Monroe said National Geographic Channel will put both feet into the scripted waters with the launch of the Ron Howard and Brian Grazer-produced series Genius, which profiles the life of Albert Einstein. The network is committed to bringing quality, attention-grabbing content, she said.

“Given the glut of outstanding scripted product in the market, we didn’t take this step lightly, and we aren’t entering the space quietly,” Monroe said.

Reelz CEO Stan Hubbard told Multichannel News that independent networks also have to be very aggressive in creating original scripted content if they have any chance to compete within a crowded marketplace. For Reelz, that means developing limited series such as its upcoming The Kennedys: After Camelot, which stars Katie Holmes and Matthew Perry. “This is as an aggressive a production as anyone does for a miniseries with a cast as big as anyone does,” Hubbard said.


Already new scripted shows announced at TCA are paying ratings dividends for networks. BET’s three-part limited series The New Edition Story, which chronicles the rise of 1980s R&B group New Edition, drew 4.2 million viewers in its Jan. 24 premiere episode, the networks most watched scripted series premiere in five years, according to the network.

BET president of programming Stephen Hill said BET will stay aggressive on the scripted front with two additional series launching on Feb. 1, including The Quad, a depiction of life at a fictional historically black university, and Madiba, starring Laurence Fishburne as Nelson Mandela.

“Our audiences are attracted to very well-produced dramas,” Hill said. “We wanted to balance our [music-themed] tentpoles with quality scripted programming. It’s a great direction for us.”

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.