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Peak TV’s Downslope: Premieres Nosedived in 2023 With Strikes, Cost-Cutting

A new report suggests Peak TV may be coming back to earth: In a year of dual labor strikes and ongoing industry belt-tightening, there was considerably less programming for viewers to consume in 2023 than in the recent past.

Data firm Luminate’s inaugural year-end film and TV report shows that a total of 1,784 TV programs across all genres and platforms — premiered last year. That’s a huge amount of programming, but it’s also 21 percent fewer premieres than in 2022 — a drop of 480 totals.

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The output of TV premieres last year even lags behind the pandemic year of 2020, which still saw just under 2,000 season and series debuts, according to Luminate (which is owned by Penske Media Corp., parent company of The Hollywood Reporter). The number of shows surged in 2021 and was fairly stable the following year before dropping off sharply in 2023.

The decline isn’t all that surprising given the events of the past year. Strikes by writers and actors seeking better contracts and working conditions shut down scores of TV productions in the summer and fall, and the media conglomerates that make most programming are cutting costs — including on programming as the free-spending days of the early streaming era seem gone.

Still, the numbers paint a pretty stark picture of just how much the TV world shrank last year. Luminate’s analysis shows that in the third quarter of the year — when premiere counts typically spike with the start of the traditional TV season — fewer than 450 programs had premieres, compared to just above 600 in 2022 and a five-year high of 678 in 2021.

Comedies and dramas saw the steepest declines, with the former having 30 percent fewer premieres (134 vs. 192) than in 2022 and dramas falling off by about 25 percent (381 vs. 510). What Luminate designates as “alternative” programming (unscripted shows, documentaries and the like) fell by about 20 percent but still encompassed the majority of all premieres with 1,038. Animation had the smallest dip, falling by just 7 percent. Unscripted and animated series were largely able to continue production during the SAG-AFTRA strike (with previously written material, at least), as performers on those shows are covered under different contracts with studios and streamers.

Effects of the strikes and companies’ greater attention to their bottom lines might ripple well into 2024: An expected post-strike flurry of deals hasn’t materialized, and a host of series that normally would have premiered in the fall are just now beginning to trickle back onto screens. The data point to a potential end to the Peak TV era.

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