The AtlanticThe Atlantic

TV isn’t about to get worse. It already is

By Caroline Framke

17 May 2023 · 4 min read

Editor's Note

The Hollywood writer’s strike has stoked fears that the quality of TV shows could deteriorate. But the painful truth, according to The Atlantic, is that they're already bad and could get even worse.

The moment the Hollywood writer’s strike became a possibility, some TV fans and reporters worried that shows were about to take a turn for the worse. Some predicted an era reminiscent of the 100-day strike in 2007–08: a parade of reruns, reliance on reality shows, and hastily lowered standards on-screen. But it’s way too late to be anticipating TV’s decline now. As streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and Peacock have gone from representing the entertainment industry’s Wild West to its inevitable future, television at large has embraced quantity over quality—a fact that striking Writers Guild of America members know better than anyone. The painful truth is that TV isn’t about to get worse. It’s already worse—and the quality might slip even further.

How many times have you watched a new show only to realize that an entire season has passed but barely anything has happened? How many times have you checked an episode’s duration and wondered why it’s doubled since the show started? How many times have you forgotten the details of a show hardly a week after you binged it? I have spent a decade watching as much television as possible for a living—including as chief TV critic at Variety from 2018 to 2022—and I’m here to say: It’s not just you. There is so much TV now, and the impact on storytelling has become unavoidable. The early years of streaming, which introduced shows such as Orange Is the New Black, The Handmaid’s Tale, and BoJack Horseman, felt like an exciting tasting menu. Today, we have an all-you-can-eat buffet that won’t let us stop eating long enough to breathe.

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