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YouTube the latest provider to back away from scripted TV shows

To the surprise of no one with even a passing knowledge of YouTube, its users haven’t seemed all that interested in paying for original content.

Some might even call it karma, considering the site has become a repository of free movies and TV episodes in clear violation of numerous copyrights.

So when YouTube recently abandoned virtually all of its scripted programming, excluding the breakout “Karate Kid” update “Cobra Kai,” Showtime was all too happy to swoop in and provide a new home for the Kirsten Dunst dark comedy “On Becoming a God in Central Florida” (10 p.m. Sunday).

Set in 1992, the series follows new mom Krystal Stubbs (Dunst), who works a dead-end job at Rebel Rapids waterpark in “Orlando-adjacent” Florida. When her husband (a sweaty, dorked-out Alexander Skarsgard) gets in over his head with Founders American Merchandise — a massive, cultlike self-help program and pyramid scheme that sells everything from baby powder to cheese in a can — she’ll have to dig her way out of debt by becoming the best FAM spokesperson the company has ever seen.

It’s not that dissimilar from Showtime’s “Weeds,” except that show’s heroine had the luxury of slinging a product that consumers actually wanted.

The fact that YouTube gave up on the series isn’t an indictment on its quality. The Google-owned platform is moving its original content from a subscription-based model to an ad-supported one and jettisoning just about everything with a script.

With pretty much every channel short of QVC having rushed headlong into scripted programming, several other outlets are pulling back on their commitments, while still more have thrown in the towel.

TNT was among the first to jump on the original cable drama bandwagon. “The Closer” ran from 2005 to 2012 and scored an Emmy and a Golden Globe for Kyra Sedgwick. A spinoff, “Major Crimes,” picked up where that left off and lasted until 2018. In 2014 alone, in addition to “Major Crimes,” TNT cranked out new seasons of “Dallas,” “Falling Skies,” “Franklin & Bash,” “The Last Ship,” “Legends,” “The Librarians,” “Murder in the First,” “Perception” and “Transporter: The Series.” Now it’s down to just two dramas: “Animal Kingdom” and “Claws.”

Aside from its stable of obviously prewritten reality shows, Bravo dipped its toe in the scripted arena with three series on the air in 2017. “Dirty John,” a dramatization of the true-crime podcast sensation involving Henderson resident Debra Newell, premiered last winter and earned Connie Britton a Golden Globe nomination before it beat a hasty retreat to the relatively safer confines of corporate sibling USA.

But USA — once home to a thriving stable of popular dramas including “Burn Notice,” “Monk,” “Psych,” and “White Collar” — is down to the final episodes of “Suits.” Other than its new spinoff, “Pearson,” the channel doesn’t have much left.

TV Land, which launched a brief cottage industry by plugging beloved sitcom stars of a certain age into new series, is completely out of originals.

MTV left scripted programming behind when “Teen Wolf” ended its six-season run in 2017.

Even Fox, an honest-to-goodness broadcast network, is drastically scaling back its scripted content with “Thursday Night Football” and “WWE Smackdown” taking over two nights of its fall schedule.

Scripted television isn’t going anywhere.

Apple TV+, Disney+ and HBOMax haven’t even launched.

But the industry is experiencing upheaval.

If you were anticipating watching “On Becoming a God in Central Florida” on YouTube, though, just wait. It will be there just as soon as some knucklehead uploads a bootleged copy.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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