Scripted Players Split on "Peak TV" and Streaming Deals, Bemoan Broadcast

NATPE -  H 2016
Courtesy of NATPE

At a NATPE panel, a handful of execs weigh in on TV's current hot-button issue: "The market is going to take care of the saturation."

John Landgraf's comments about Peak TV continue to accrue miles. The FX chief, who first brought up the suggestion of a serialized saturation point in 2015, might as well have been an honorary panelist Tuesday during a NATPE summit in Miami Beach on the state of scripted programming. The conference opener showed that many of Landgraf's contemporaries are divided about his assessment — and about one another's personal take on the new mantra. 

"I'm selling against myself," said UTA partner Peter Benedek, noting the list of 400-plus scripted projects currently out there. "It's a great time to be an agent, but there's a little too much going on ... too much for its own good."

From a seller's perspective, he was the only one to say "too much." Lionsgate TV Group president Sandra Stern, who has dismissed the notion of Peak TV before, emphasized that volume was just where the business is heading. "Yes, it's probably true we can't keep up, but TV today isn't about keeping up with everything," she said. "We've settle into a niche period. People watch their favorite shows. And unless something isn't somebody's favorite show, it's not going to survive. The market is going to take care of the saturation."

The appeal of being some viewers' "favorite" is the driver at Amazon, per Amazon Studios drama head Morgan Wandell. In addition to rejecting NBC's recent outing of Netflix's and his own originals' ratings — adults 18-49 are "irrelevant" to the streaming model — he suggested that big audiences are a network quest that isn't breeding loyalty.

"The approach is to be somebody's favorite show," said Wandell. "I think, in a lot of ways, the [Big Four] are in the business of being 12 or 13 million people's third-favorite show. We're in the business of being someone's favorite show. There weren't a lot of networks racing to make a show about the Nazis winning the war."

Few on the panel, which also included brass from EPIX, Endemol Shine North America and Showtime, were eager to say anything nice about broadcast. Benedek said that clients are least interested in conventional network television, even though hits there remain the most lucrative.

The matter of money had the group more divided. Benedek gently chided Wandell for the compensation of Transparent showrunner (and UTA client) Jill Soloway, who Showtime's Gary Levine dubbed "The LeBron James of Amazon."

"Jill Soloway is not complaining about her life," replied Wandell, who said he didn't want to get into a conversation about deal structures.

Stern did. The exec, whose company produces Netflix's Orange Is the New Black, expressed her frustration with the new model of selling to outlets with a built-in global reach. "There is naturally a max," she said. "I can take a show off Showtime and sell it around the world and my upside as only as good as my show is. With a Amazon or Netflix, where the footprint is global, I've got a natural limitation. There's a percentage, but it's tied to the budget. It's not tied to the audience or the quality."

Circling back to Peak TV, of which Landgraf himself said many are "uncomfortable even debating the question of whether there is or can be too much television" at a recent appearance at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour, Levine offered his take.

"We seem to be the only part of the culture that bemoans an abundance of quality programming," he said. "When was the last time somebody complained there were too many good movies or restaurants in your neighborhood? There are 320 million Americans, and the idea that there's 400 scripted series is a disaster? I don't think I subscribe to the numbers game."