Call it the summer of television’s discontent. There’s been an unusually high amount of studio meddling in upcoming TV series this summer. Shows have been retooled, showrunners have been fired, blood has been spilled. And the reason may be that television studios are just producing too much content now.
“Half of the 2015-16 rookie class of broadcast series has suffered a retooling, recasting or showrunner switcheroo,” according to The Hollywood Reporter’s in-depth report. Including The Frankenstein Code, which just became Lookinglass, and Minority Report, which had some major recasting.
This happens every year, to some extent—shows that had huge creative shakeups after their pilots were filmed include (off the top of my head) Alcatraz and Sleepy Hollow. Both of those shows had showrunner turnover before they even made their second episodes, if I remember correctly. But the scope of this year’s summer tinkering is unprecedented—and The Hollywood Reporter’s industry sources claim that part of the problem is that networks are less patient than ever before if a show’s second episode isn’t as mindblowing as its pilot. They used to have a lot more tolerance for the idea that a show might take a while to find its feet. (And bear in mind, the pilot usually films at least six months before the second episode, which is when the show really begins to hit the ground running.)
There are so many new TV shows coming on all the time—including offerings on Netflix, Amazon, and other outlets—that audiences won’t give a show a few episodes to figure out the winning formula any more. So there’s increased pressure to get it right early on, but also a lot of second-guessing. And reading between the lines, it sounds as though some of the tinkering is just resulting in shows that won’t actually have a strong creative vision at all—because of the musical chairs behind the scenes, and the network paranoia about the impossible challenge of finding a mass audience. So, basically, brace yourself for a whole lot of mediocre, over-packaged television this fall and spring.
And the Hollywood Reporter article links back to an earlier piece, from a month ago, in which FX head John Landgraf told reporters there is “simply too much television” right now, and it’s kind of a content bubble. Landgraf told the TCA, “I long ago lost the ability to keep track of every scripted TV series … But this year, I finally lost the ability to keep track of every programmer who is in the scripted programming business.”
Over time, the sheer amount of new television programming may decrease as more shows fail to find an audience—but for now, it sounds as though we’re in for a glut of highly forgettable television—with, one hopes, the occasional standout.
Top image: Minority Report