The Event Series

With all the news coming in from Upfronts and schedules for the fall being revealed, there is one noticeable trend occurring among almost all the networks. Event Series. So far only CBS and CW (who we haven’t heard from yet) do not have an event series lined up. That means that the majority of the networks do. Some of these networks even have multiple event series lined up to either begin the season or to try later in the season. But with the rise of the event series what are they really.

Under the DomeWhat is an event series?
Thirty years ago someone may have called it a mini-series. Heck, there are still people calling them mini-series. In many ways, people who call them this aren’t far off from the truth. However there are a few differences. An event series for a network is a show that presents a beginning, middle, and end (generally) in a condensed number of episodes, often 10. The entire story that was pitched is covered in this series, though there can still be cliffhangers. That makes it different from a mini-series. The concept behind a mini-series was that it would tell a whole story that was too large for a standard film over a series of episodes. Often mini-series ran for multiple hour and and half to two hour blocks. You would generally get no more than 5 blocks of this. While the time frame is the same as a mini-series, the fact that they remain normal length episodes changes the pacing to feel less movie like and more TV like.

Why networks want event series?
With most networks struggling to maintain ratings in our currently shifting way of consuming TV, event series are an exciting prospect to networks that are trying to fill their schedule. And filling a schedule is difficult meaning many shows are tested and only a few survive (read more about that here at We Minored in Film). That means that an event series is an enticing prospect for numerous reasons.

For one, an event series has a limited number of episodes that lowers the amount of commitment that a network needs to make to a show. Being able to tell showrunners that they can have their 10 episode arc and cover their story is less stressful and doesn’t have to hurt their pocket as making a 13 and then 9 episode commitment. Instead they can tell them to create their story within their specified budget. It allows the network to then market the show as a limited event and draw attention to it.

The network then also has the ability to choose if the event series was a worthy endeavor and they wish to do it again or if it’s a one and done. This gives the network the upper hand while it benefits fans. The creators of a limited event series undoubtedly go into the creation of the show knowing that they have only a certain number of episodes to tell the story and there is only a slight chance that they will be able to come back for more. That means the story is going to be as tight as they can make it. So as a viewer you get a tighter and full story. As a network, you see a one time deal that could potentially spawn another deal. If it doesn’t work, they can wipe their hands of it.

It’s Already Begun
This summer we will see the return of the limited event series Under the Dome. It was marketed as a one time storyline, but when it did really well, CBS decided that they were going to bring it back for another run. The show is still considered a event series meaning hat at the nd of this season there is no bated breath about whether it will come back again because the assumption is that it won’t. However, if CBS decides that yet again Under the Dome was a worthwhile investment and the story is still open enough to continue you can bet that they will pick it up again for next summer.

24 Live Another DayBut not all event series do survive and earn themselves enough that a network will want more of the series. For example Hostages did abysmally for CBS standards. While it was externally billed as a limited event series, it seemed as though they were angling for me. That said when it was clear that Hostages wasn’t working, it wasn’t a surprise that it wasn’t returned. What was more surprising was that it was even acknowledged that it was not returning.

24 is also running as an event series currently on FOX. This allows FOX to pull in old and new viewers who flocked to the show when it was on air. It also gave them the freedom to create a cost effective program by reducing the number of episodes from 24 to 12. And finally, it allows FOX the flexibility to decide if the ratings and inflow of money justified the cost of the production.

This Season’s Event Series
This coming year we are going to be seeing a number of event series. On ABC, there will be Secrets and Lies. On FOX, there will be Gracepoint and Wayward Pines. On NBC, there will be A.D. and Heroes Reborn.

What limited series do you watch?

2 thoughts on “The Event Series

  1. I think because of Under the Dome the “Event Series” has lost meaning. It’s simply a marketing a term the networks are using to describe a cable-sized show (7-13 episode seasons) airing on a broadcast network. Beyond the financial benefits for the network, the intent on their part is to create something which by the virtue of being pitched as a limited event takes on a must-see status and translates to more live or live+3 day viewing from those not wanting to be left out of the cultural conversation. If you say you’re relaunching Heroes it’s a big “meh” but if you say you’re relaunching it for a limited run it at least gets a, “Well that stands out.” The problem post-Under the Dome is that “event series” or “limited season” has somewhat been tarnished as a concept. If you’re giving us a half-season of Sleepy Hollow or The Following we can accept that because we’ve been dealing with that kind of scheduling for several years now, but if you say we’ll only ever get 13 episodes of Under the Dome and then you give us 13 more a year later it loses meaning. The benefit, I guess, is that if something fails, like Hostages, there’s always the, “Well, it was always meant to just be a limited series anyway.”

    Of course, there’s also the event programming such as the live musicals NBC and Fox will be doing to replicate the Sound of Music success, and those “Event Series” which do genuinely seem like good old-fashioned mini-series, like A.D., and Emerald City.

    Of the current “Event Shows” or “limited season” shows, I don’t watch any other than True Detective, though as an anthology show it’s not really clear if that would be categorized as an “event series” or not. Of the upcoming ones, I’ll check out Heroes: Reborn, Wayward Pines, and Gracepoint (if advance word of mouth indicates there’s any reason to watch it if you’ve already seen the British version).

    • I completely agree with you. In many ways it’s clear that networks are calling these certain show event series because it creates a buzz around the show. And if you look at the shows which are being coined event series they tend to be either adaptations or genre based shows that pose a higher risk to the network. But cutting their losses early on, they generate buzz and can then monitor how the shows are received.

      I do think they need to come with a more fitting term, but this one is ding them well from their perspective.

      That said, I enjoy the concept behind an event series. Partially because the shows are shorter and designed with an arc. I’ve also noticed that they are less like to pull or replace these shows. That said, aside from Under the Dome there have not been any event series that catch my attention as of yet.

      I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of these, particularly on FOX who are throwing out the idea of a traditional season length in favor of a season that satisfies it’s arc. (I.e. Gotham at 16 episodes and Sleepy Hollow at 16-18 for season 2, plus all their event series.)

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