“Limited series” is one of broadcast TV’s new favorite buzzwords. CBS’ summer hit Under the Dome was billed as a limited series. One of their more intriguing fall series Hostages is as well. ABC announced at upfronts this year that they would be using limited series as a way to air more original content and, as a result, have less off weeks for some of their more serialized programs (Once Upon A Time, Scandal, Revenge, etc.).
My question is this: what the heck is a “limited series”?
confined within limits; restricted or circumscribed
Based on that definition of limited, one would think a it’s just a fancy way of saying miniseries. A certain number of episodes, that tells a set story, and has a specific ending in mind – a TV fan’s dream (or at least this TV fan’s dream). Unfortunately, that has not been the case.
During the recent Television Critics Association (TCA) summer press tour, CBS renewed Under the Dome for a second season. When trotting out Hostages, the folks behind the show were quick to point out that they hope to have more seasons beyond their initial 15-episode order. ABC went so far as to call basically anything running for less than the standard 22-24 episodes a “limited” series – even Revenge, which is entering its third season on the network.
I have no problem with broadcast networks moving toward shorter seasons. In fact, I wholeheartedly support and encourage it. 22-24 episodes a year is an insane amount, and inevitably leads to creative burnout. There are always filler episodes in those longer seasons. A shorter season allows for a tighter story arc in most cases – just look at most of the things airing on cable for proof.
The issue I have is with the use of the word “limited”. “Limited” does not mean “less episodes than we usually make”. To me, it should mean a finite run of episodes – and therefore, a predictable time commitment to a show that I know will get a proper ending. I tuned into Under the Dome this summer because I thought it was really great that there would be run of 13 (15?) episodes of a story to fill my summer, and then it would be over, and that would be that. Ultimately, the show was pretty awful creatively and I checked out after a few episodes, but I have a hard time believing that’s a story that needs more than one season to reach a logical conclusion (I mean, supplies under the dome must be pretty scarce by now, right?).
In a television environment in which so many shows barely get a chance to survive, and those that do are often cut short before they get a chance to reach a natural ending, I would be thrilled to see some ACTUAL “limited” series out there. Tell a great story in 13 episodes, and then bow out quietly. No years of commitment that never get paid off for the audience, and a more creatively fulfilling experience for those making the show (at least I would assume so).
In the meantime, if the networks could perhaps re-evaluate their use of the word “limited”, it would be greatly appreciated.
Well aware this rant is like, two weeks late, but apparently that’s what I do now. React to things several weeks late.