487 Original Programs Aired in 2017. Bet You Didn’t Watch Them All

Posted January 5, 2018 6:25 p.m. EST
Updated January 5, 2018 6:30 p.m. EST

PASADENA, Calif. — Too many TV shows to choose from?

You’re not alone.

At least 487 original scripted programs aired in 2017, the latest record-breaking figure for the TV industry, according to data released Friday by the cable network FX.

That was more than the 455 shows that broadcast in 2016, more than the 288 in 2012 and far more than the 182 from 15 years ago.

The staggering growth largely comes from the seemingly endless budget lines that help produce new shows for streaming services. Netflix, for example, has said it will spend a $8 billion on content this year.

In 2013, the year that Netflix’s “House of Cards” premiered, online services distributed only 24 original programs. In 2017, that number skyrocketed to 117.

Others are responsible, too, though. In the past five years, premium cable has seen 45 percent growth in the number of original programs, and basic cable networks a 40 percent rise, and even the broadcast networks have grown by 29 percent, according to FX. This doesn’t even include the large number of nonscripted reality or documentary series.

Popular new shows this past year included Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” ABC’s “The Good Doctor” and HBO’s “Big Little Lies.” And consider that “Big Little Lies” was supposed to be a one-and-done series but proved so successful that HBO executives — who, like their counterparts at just about every other network, are hungry for content — announced that the show would get a second season

Even lesser-known shows are plugging along. “Fuller House,” a Netflix revival of the old ABC family sitcom, released its third season, to little fanfare, last year.

Not long ago, there was real self-reflection within the TV industry about whether too much television was a good thing. With more programming and plenty of other digital distractions like Facebook and Instagram, traditional ratings were falling and executives and producers were openly complaining about just how hard it was to get their shows in front of people. And what to do about bingeing?

“Someone will tweet me, and they will be, like, ‘I watched all four seasons in two days,'” Australian comedian Josh Thomas said last year about his show “Please Like Me.” “That took me five years to fill that two days,” he added, with an expletive for emphasis.

Still, the freewheeling spending of the streaming services has prompted more networks to spend more than they usually would. (A respectable drama costs at least $3 million an episode to make.) It is not clear just how many players will be able to sustain that pace.

“There’s no question that the streaming services are putting an enormous amount of pressure on the business model,” John Landgraf, the chief executive of FX, said at a news media event Friday.

Indeed, last year some cable networks like WGN and A&E said they were abandoning scripted content because the finances made no sense. Short of a major hit, it’s difficult to justify the costs. Netflix even began canceling some original shows last year, including “The Get Down,” a pricey 1970s music drama.

But cancellations have done little to stop the glut of programming.

Netflix keeps ramping up elsewhere, and the proposed merger between 21st Century Fox and Disney all but assures more of a full-out fight for content. Also, three digital titans — Apple, Facebook and Google — are aggressively entering the TV fray.

Still, with all of this content, there remain three players who make what are perceived to be the best TV shows, at least in the past year.

Shows from FX, HBO and Netflix comprised 55 percent of the shows on critics’ year-end best-of-2017 lists, according to FX. Netflix accounted for 24 percent, HBO 21 and FX 10. The rest were distributed from dozens of other TV networks, like NBC, Showtime, Hulu and AMC.