PILOT SEASON: The Rise Of Limited Series

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PILOT SEASON: The Rise Of Limited Series
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PILOT SEASON: The Rise Of Limited Series

Days after last year’s upfront in New York, History‘s Hatfields & McCoys burst onto the scene, shattering ratings records and reviving the limited-event series form. Over the last 12 months, event series have continued to gain momentum, with History launching another blockbuster in The Bible, and Fox, FX and Spike announcing big pushes in the arena. The genre also has been factoring into the network’s ongoing pilot discussions and may have presence at the upfronts next week. “It seems to be the du jour concept these days,” one industry insider said. “If you call a drama a limited event series, you maintain series options on the actors while at the same time maintain the project’s international value. And if you market them well, they bring in audience.”

One of the highest-profile drama prospects for next season, ABC’s Once Upon A Time spinoff, has been developed as a limited series to air 13-episode arcs every season in the vein of FX’s American Horror Story. Such a potential scenario also has been mentioned for a number of other serialized/high-concept drama pilots should they get a series order: ABC’s Gothica and Big Thunder, Fox’s Sleepy Hollow and CBS’ Hostages. CBS already is branching into the genre this coming summer with Under The Dome, originally developed as a regular series. The CW, whose president Mark Pedowitz last season was among the first to embrace the concept, did midseason entry Cult as a limited-type series and is looking to do more next season, with The Selection among those considered for a limited run. Fox’s The Following and ABC’s Red Widow too had been conceived with cable-style shorter seasons in mind.

Limited series have become an increasingly enticing proposition for the broadcast networks as they have seen ratings for drama repeats, even on the top procedurals, plummet over the past few years. With traditional drama series not capable of producing more than 22-24 episodes for the 35-week broadcast season, networks are looking for ways to stay in originals, and limited series appear like a viable alternative to bridge the 13-week gap. The Once Upon A Time spinoff could relieve the mothership series, and the CW is exploring a potential “royal wheel” with Reign and The Selection, which is in the mix though not as hot as Tomorrow People, Reign, The 100 and, to some extent, Oxygen.

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