Tuned In: Miniseries, similar formats return to TV

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Sunday night a four-hour, two-part "Bonnie & Clyde" miniseries debuts on Lifetime, History and A&E -- read more about it in Sunday's Post-Gazette TV Week -- and it's the latest evidence that the success of "Hatfields & McCoys," which drew more than 14 million viewers in 2012, has helped spur a miniseries revival.

Several similar, but not identical, formats are also getting ready to make an impact in the television landscape, but good luck trying to identify their defining characteristics. Even network executives are using the terms "miniseries," "event series" and "limited series" somewhat interchangeably.

"There's some crossover, but the miniseries is a shorter number of hours," said NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt. "A limited series is usually 10-13 hours [and it] could continue. Miniseries usually have a finite ending. I always thought 'Under the Dome' was a miniseries, but when you get those [big] ratings, it's suddenly a series."

Miniseries have generally been considered close-ended, short-term stories running from four to 30 hours if you think back to 1980s extravaganzas like "War and Remembrance." Today "War and Remembrance" would not be considered a miniseries; it would be labeled an event series or a limited series.

But pinning down programmers on how they differentiate those terms is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. CBS's fall show "Hostages" was variously called an event series and a limited series, but CBS CEO Leslie Moonves clarified the networks' intention for both "Hostages" and "Under the Dome."

"With 'Hostages,' if you watched the whole thing and then the end, you sort of saw where it could lead, where this show could lead. We didn't put it on just to have 15 episodes. We put it on to have multiple seasons of it," he said in July, before turning to "Under the Dome." "And why can't they be under the dome for a long period of time? This is television. This is science fiction. They're up on some planet somewhere for many years. 'Under the Dome,' in a lot of ways, is a soap opera. It's 'Dallas' in the future."

So sometimes a "limited" or "event" series is only truly limited in duration if it fails; in success, it would return for another season.

The notion of limited series came about because broadcast channels see cable networks -- and streaming services such as Netflix -- having success with serialized shows that run for a season of just 13 episodes each. The broadcasters want in on that format.

"The world has certainly changed because of Netflix and Amazon and all the players that are in that space," Mr. Moonves said. "We've generally avoided serialized shows in those shortened orders, although we watched with great interest the success of, obviously, a '24.' 'The Following' did very well. ... And it's a new world. Look, every model that we're doing is somewhat different than it was before."

CBS's experiment with the 15-episode "Hostages" failed to pan out -- ratings have been terrible, and the series finale will air Jan. 6; there will not be a second season -- but the network will get another opportunity with "Intelligence," a modern take on "The Six Million Dollar Man" that stars Josh Holloway and debuts Jan. 7.

ABC has announced several limited series -- including the canceled "Betrayal" and the upcoming "Resurrection" -- and NBC hired away ABC's longtime miniseries guru, Quinn Taylor, to develop several miniseries, including a sequel to "The Bible," "A.D.: After the Bible," a Cleopatra miniseries and remakes of "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Tommyknockers."

But Fox is furthest ahead in this short-duration series race with next year's "24" limited series, "24: Live Another Day," M. Night Shyamalan's "Wayward Pines" and a remake of BBC America's "Broadchurch."

"The one size fits all business to me is over," said Fox Entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly. "And that's one of the things I love about the event series, is that we will have them in the can in advance. There's a beginning, middle and an end, and we can program that in the way that would be best for the network and best for that show. So we're going to have some more flexibility with those."

These close-ended, limited series are not exclusive to broadcasters. Cable's FX is getting into this programming, too. FX CEO John Landgraf avoids using the term event series ("That just seems bombastic," he said), but he's bullish on limited series, ordering several for the coming years, including a 10-hour TV version of the Coen Brothers' movie "Fargo" for 2014.

"The reason I use the word limited series is I think of miniseries mostly as four and six hours," he said. "When we're making a limited series, it's usually 10 to 13 episodes, but it's close-ended. Limited series to me evokes better what it is. It's not a two-night event. It's gonna be a 10-week thing."

Mr. Landgraf was definitive that "the story of 'Fargo' ends at the end at the 10th episode of 'Fargo.' Those characters don't continue. Just like 'American Horror Story' the characters don't continue from one season to the next."

Mr. Landgraf said it's possible "Fargo" could return for subsequent installments with new characters, similar to what "AHS" does, but that remains to be seen.

"One of the reasons that we're in the limited series business is we feel like there are dozens and dozens of great 90-hour movies to be made, that is to say, seven season arcs of shows," he said. "But what if a television show could be just the length that is optimal for that story, six hours, eight hours, 10 hours, 12, 26, 39, 65? So you didn't have to compact it any more than you wanted to and you didn't have to extend it any more than you wanted to. You could make it optimal."

'Bundle-up Telethon'

WTAE's "Project Bundle-Up Telethon" begins during today's 5 a.m. news and continues through the day, culminating in an hourlong special at 7 p.m. that will be hosted by meteorologist Mike Harvey, "WTAE Chronicle" host Sally Wiggin and news anchor Michelle Wright. ("Inside Edition" and "Entertainment Tonight" will be pre-empted.)

'Daniel Tiger' on DVD

PBS's "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood," produced by the South Side's Fred Rogers Company, will make its DVD debut on Feb. 25 with two titles: "Daniel's Big Feelings" and "Life's Little Lessons."

"Daniel's Big Feelings" will have 10 episodes and "Life's Little Lessons" will contain eight episodes, an improvement from the paltry two episodes on each "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" DVD release from 2005.

Channel surfing

If you missed it on its debut weekend last month, Science Channel's "The Challenger Disaster" encores tonight at 9. ... Saturday at 10 p.m. Science Channel will debut a new special, "Super Comet ISON 2013." ... "Turbo FAST," a spinoff TV series from this summer's animated movie "Turbo," will debut on Netflix Dec. 24. ... The sixth and final episode of WQED's "iQ: smartmedia" airs at 8 p.m. Thursday and explores what it means to be a "good digital citizen" and the future impact of a child's online identity. ... This week NBC renewed freshman hit "The Blacklist" for a 22-episode second season to air during the 2014-15 TV season. ... TV Land renewed "The Soul Man" for a third season to premiere in spring 2014. ... The second season of Netflix streaming series "House of Cards" will become available Feb. 14. ... A one-hour holiday-themed "Duck Dynasty" special debuts at 10 p.m. Wednesday. ... The first season of 1980s NBC hit "L.A. Law" comes to DVD for the first time on Feb. 25. ... Former MTV VJ Kennedy (aka Lisa Kennedy Montgomery) will host "The Independents," airing Monday through Wednesday and Friday night at 9 on Fox Business Network beginning next week. ... Pittsburgher Mary Swick will appear on CBS's "Let's Make a Deal" (10 a.m. weekdays, KDKA-TV) Thursday.

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "NCIS," holiday programming and "Craft Wars." This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Mob City" and "Bonnie & Clyde." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

The Tuned In podcast is on hiatus and will return next week.

TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news.

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