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TV Production Boom Fueled By Scripted 'Must See' Shows

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

These are boom times for the television industry. From 2009 to last year, the number of scripted TV shows has doubled, from around 200 to around 400. For people who work in the industry and for people who watch TV, it's a big deal. But is it sustainable? Our guest, Joe Adalian wrote about this for New York Magazine's vulture.com, and he's with us now. Welcome to the show.

JOE ADALIAN: Thank you.

MCEVERS: So first, just tell us, why is this boom happening in television production? Is it just the entry of new delivery systems like Amazon and Netflix?

ADALIAN: You know, that's part of it. The larger reason it's happening is because TV outlets realize that the best way to hold on to audiences and to get audiences is to go with scripted originals. You know, for a while, there was a big boom in unscripted reality shows, right?

MCEVERS: Right.

ADALIAN: And those were what really powered the industry. But they don't attract the right kinds of audience for advertisers, and the industry overdid it. So many cable networks just completely oversaturated the reality marketplace, and it became hard for anyone to get a big hit. And, you know, sort of starting, maybe, with FX and "The Shield" - going all the way back to them - and then later on with networks like AMC and "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men" - networks sort of realizing, hey, those are going to be must-see for consumers, and they're going to make those cable networks valuable. And then, of course, yes, Netflix came into the marketplace and showed you don't even need to have a cable company behind you. You can just go out there and offer this directly to consumers, and suddenly people will pay $15, $12 a month to get this content.

MCEVERS: Right, so you have this huge increase in just the number of shows being made, but the pool of people who are making them has kind of stayed about the same. That must mean that it's a good time to be an actor, no?

ADALIAN: It's a good time on many levels to be involved in making television, right? There are more possible jobs available across the spectrum. If you're a working actor, you can find a job. If you're a writer with some credits to his or her name, you can get on a show because there are just simply so many opportunities. That doesn't necessarily mean everybody's getting rich. The whole business model of TV has also changed as part of this. You know, during the, you know, first 30, 40 years of TV - the network age - everything was about making 22 or 24 episodes of TV for big-network shows that got big audiences. And then, when they were successful, they went into syndication and made hundreds of millions, sometimes billions of dollars, like "Seinfeld" or "Friends." Well, now, you know, shows are doing eight and 10 episodes. There's not as much back-end money in some of these shows, so therefore the profits go down. So it's not as if anyone involved in this is - in these shows is getting poor or is not going to get a little bit rich, but the opportunities to make really big amounts of have gone down.

MCEVERS: So I guess the big question is - and this is also what you write about, right - is could this be a bubble? I mean, there are two times as many scripted shows in production as there were just a few years ago, but are there two times as many viewers and advertisers? Is this sustainable?

ADALIAN: You know, that is a giant question facing Hollywood right now. And there's some people who say that, in the short-term, we could actually see even more production. And that's because there'll be more players in the short-term who are going to try to get into this marketplace. You know, you can see the possibility of someone like Yahoo, if they join with a media company, might start to do original productions. Youtube is starting a major effort to do their own originals. On the other hand, there are people, like John Landgraf, who runs FX, who think that we may have reached what he called peak television and that because the ratings are going down, because there aren't as many breakout hits, there's going to be some dialing-down. So it's going to be an interesting five years.

MCEVERS: That was Joe Adalian. He and his colleague, Maria Elena Fernandez, wrote about the boom in the TV industry for New York Magazine's vulture.com. Thank you.

ADALIAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.