In some ways, the past year in TV was a long ending.
For one thing, a number of the best series left for good — or at least until some executive has the brilliant idea of rebooting or reviving them. We said farewell to “Succession,” whose fourth season was my No. 1 show of 2023. I was thankful creator Jesse Armstrong chose to wrap up the story of the Roy family instead of dragging it out for revenue’s sake, but simultaneously sad — especially since the final episodes were so strong, tinged to perfection with the show’s trademark cynicism and wit. I will miss it. The final arrangement of the characters, and the fate of the Roy empire, were perfectly ironical, in keeping with the tone of everything that came before. It was a masterful finish.
We also said goodbye to a few other shows that have elevated the scripted categories in recent years. “The Great,” “The Other Two,” “Reservation Dogs,” “Ted Lasso,” and “Never Have I Ever” went out on top, now waiting to be binged from start to finish by those who missed them the first time around. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Barry,” and “Billions” left, too, arguably less cloaked in glory than in their earlier heights. And, after six seasons and a number of casts, “The Crown” is leaving this month, after having served as a TV institution of sorts since 2016. Peter Morgan’s epic, the story of a queen and her family, but also the story of 20th-century politics and media, has been a unique and ambitious — and triumphant — TV experiment in long-form storytelling.
This year also saw what may well be the beginning of the end of Peak TV, that phase of the industry that saw the number of annual releases rise and rise. There were 210 new English-language scripted series in 2009; in 2022, particularly due to the streaming revolution that began in 2013, the total grew to a whopping 599 series. And the number would be significantly higher if scripted foreign-language imports, so many of them released weekly on Netflix, were included. TV viewers — and TV critics — have been acutely aware of this profusion, as to-watch lists have become unmanageable and subscription-based outlets have become too numerous to keep track of. Many good shows have been lost in the shuffle.
The word “peak,” though, means the highest point, the maximum, and we may have reached that top and begun a leveling-off and even a decrease. The WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes certainly brought down the number of new shows this year, particularly on the networks, which had programming gaps aplenty that they filled with reality TV and game shows. Once production on almost all scripted series paused in the spring, the fall season — that time of year when there is generally a deluge of new material — was a big old bust. The entertainment machine idled, while actors reunited with former cast members for picket-line photo ops.
But the larger indication that Peak TV — a term coined by FX’s John Landgraf in 2015 — is subsiding has to do with market saturation. Once Netflix started losing subscribers in 2022, and the streaming platform’s stock profile took a hit, the streaming industry in general took note. It looked as though the dream of unlimited growth potential was over. With Hulu, Max, Disney+, Amazon, Paramount+, Apple TV+, and Peacock all aggressively competing feverishly with Netflix for subscribers, there was a glut. For years, companies had been putting down new roots in the streaming space and throwing money at new projects in order to fill the coffers and attract subscribers. But in 2022 continuing into 2023, they started cooling down. Netflix even introduced an ad-supported plan after claiming it never would, a concession of sorts to the slowdown.
I’m hoping a sense of reason is somehow dawning on some of the services, as they think harder about which shows to fund. Perhaps they’ll aim to hold onto subscribers instead of churning out a broad quantity of series and miniseries in an increasingly difficult fight for new ones. So many shows have gotten lost in the years of Peak TV clutter; it’s time for a saner, more considered approach. The end of the mad dash for streaming money? The end of the too-much-TV era? I’m for it.