TV Long View: Six Months, 300-Plus Scripted Shows — a Peak TV Story

With 2019 half over, television is on pace for a record number of scripted series and seems likely to top 500 for the first time.
Courtesy of ABC, HBO and Netflix
From left: 'Grey's Anatomy,' 'Game of Thrones,' 'Sex Education'

Halfway through 2019, the Peak TV era shows zero signs of abating. In fact, there are more than 300 signs that the proliferation of television series is, if anything, accelerating.

The Hollywood Reporter's unofficial count of scripted series that have premiered in the first six months of the year stands at 322. That's running a good bit ahead of 2018, when it took an extra month — through the end of July — to get to 319 shows.

THR followed the same guidelines FX does when it compiles its annual report on the proliferation of scripted content, counting only English-language series and not including daytime dramas, shortform content, one-off movies or specials and children's programming.

It also doesn't count the hundreds more unscripted and documentary series that make up the majority of original programming on TV.

The distribution of shows was fairly even across the three delivery systems. Broadcast networks (including PBS) have aired 114 shows over the six months. Cable is close behind at 110, and streaming platforms have aired 98.

The 322 shows that have aired so far this year point toward an all-time high in scripted series for the whole of 2019. The current yearlong high is 495, per FX research, set in 2018. The current tally is already 65 percent of the way to that total — and ahead the annual total for 2012, the year before House of Cards marked Netflix's debut as a serious player in original series.

To top 495 shows, the TV ecosystem would have to debut 29 shows per month the remainder of the year, which is not a terribly high bar: 32 series debuted on cable alone in June. What the half-year numbers do not likely mean is that 644 scripted series — double the current total — will air by Dec. 31.

For starters, about half of the broadcast total is series that were renewed for the 2019-20 season, so while there will be new episodes of them in the fall, they won't count as separate shows. (The broadcast nets will launch 16 new comedies and dramas in September and October.) Premieres also typically tail off some in the summer, as July and August are typically lower-usage times for TV consumers. It would be no surprise if the year-end total topped 500, but 600-plus seems like a stretch.

Broadcast shows make up about 35 percent of the total now, ahead of the 31 percent average for the past three years. That's likely to shrink some in the remainder of the year. Only four scripted shows are set to premiere on the broadcast nets for the remainder of the summer; eight are due on cable and streaming in the next two weeks.

Despite the explosion in both providers and shows in the past decade, television has yet to reach 500 scripted series in a single calendar year. It's looking very much like 2019 will be that year.