TV Drama: 2015 Year in Review


Buyers were most definitely spoiled for choice when it came to scripted product last year. Indeed, there were so many new titles on offer from across the globe that it was inevitable that industry watchers would start to ask when the drama bubble would burst.

FX Networks chief John Landgraf made headlines over the summer when he declared: “this is simply too much television.” Later in the year, FX-commissioned data reported that there were 409 scripted titles on air across the U.S. landscape in 2015, a gain of 9 percent on the previous year.

“This was the third consecutive year that scripted series count has grown across each distribution platform—broadcast, basic and pay cable, streaming—led by significant gains in basic cable and digital services,” Julie Piepenkotter, FX’s executive VP of research, said in releasing the data. “This statistic is staggering and almost unimaginable from where they were a decade ago.”

It’s not just the volume of scripted that took everyone by surprise last year: the diversity, too, would have been unimaginable a decade ago. Just look at what’s happening in the U.S., where international producers and distributors are finally seeing real traction when it comes to placing foreign product in front of American audiences.

On the OTT side, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have created a wealth of new opportunities. Of note, Netflix backed a new season of the acclaimed British series Black Mirror and has been spending considerable cash on funding original productions internationally, including in the U.K., France, Brazil and Argentina.

Cable networks in the U.S. were also more open to foreign fare in 2015, both English-language and subtitled. SundanceTV made waves with its co-pro deal with FremantleMedia International on the German-language series Deutschland 83. It also partnered with Red Arrow International for the Australian series Cleverman. Esquire Network is a new face on the international scripted block, signing up for shows like Beowulf and Spotless. A&E, too, has become a home for high-end drama, committing to BBC Worldwide’s epic War and Peace airing this month, while Lifetime partnered with the BBC on the Agatha Christie-inspired And Then There Were None.

Elsewhere around the world, distributors found lots of new opportunities, too. In China, digital platforms like Youku Tudou and Letv, among others, bought a lot of scripted in 2015, despite new content restrictions. In the U.K., Channel 4’s Walter Presents created a new avenue for selling foreign-language drama into that market. Across Europe, broadcasters came together for cross-border collaborations in a bid to create scripted product that would translate easily across markets.

Another big trend in 2015 was a move toward reboots, as more and more networks announced plans to bring back veteran brands—think Roots, The X-Files and Twin Peaks, among many others. There were plenty of novel adaptations announced, including one for Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Graphic novels and comic books were also prime fodder for scripted series, especially given the continued success of The Walking Dead and the breakout, buzz-generating performance of Netflix’s Jessica Jones.

Limited series and anthologies were also all the rage, and more are due in 2016, allowing broadcasters to schedule them as stunts and minimize the risks associated with committing to 13- or 22-episode seasons.

So what is 2016 going to look like on the drama front? A recent NATPE survey indicated that more than half of the group’s members believe that the number of scripted shows will increase over the next two years, while almost half of NATPE members expect budgets to decline. Of those polled, 75 percent believe that streaming VOD services—Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and the like—will play the largest role in bringing new scripted shows to the market in the next two years. Indeed, they made plenty of noise last year with buzz-generating titles. In fact, Netflix scored the most nods for this weekend’s Golden Globe Awards. And the big three aren’t the only digital players making noise on the scripted side. CBS made waves last year when it announced a new chapter of Star Trek—to be produced for its digital VOD service in 2017.

As OTT services keep driving the trend toward heavily serialized scripted content, you can expect free-to-air broadcasters across the globe to continue to bemoan the lack of quality procedurals on the market. The pact announced last year between NBCUniversal International Television Production, Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland and TF1 to produce original U.S.-style procedural dramas might well be a blueprint for broadcasters going forward.

You can keep track of all the latest developments in drama with World Screen’s latest electronic service, TV Drama Daily, launching next week. We’ll also be doing TV Drama Breaking News alerts, so you can learn about the biggest deals in the genre as they happen. You can also visit our dedicated website,