Opinion: In the long run… I’ll always love a limited series

Anthony Kimble

In the latest instalment of his TBI column, LA-based exec Anthony Kimble, co-CEO and founder of Arrested Industries, argues that less can be so much more when it comes to scripted series.

From Dahmer and Dropout to We Own This City and The White Lotus, limited (or mini or anthology) series have been punching above their weight for some time now. They’ve been grabbing more than their fair share of press coverage, setting the Twittersphere alight and frequently being held up as the sort of content we should all aspire to create.

Why then, when many such titles are getting their just rewards during the current awards season, is it still virtually impossible to get a limited series commissioned in the US?

This obsession with long running, returning series never developed in quite the same way outside of the US as the budgets just weren’t there

At the Golden Globes in January, Mike White, showrunner on The White Lotus, hilariously called out the network execs and talent that passed on the show when he was trying to pull it together. It took absolutely eons to arrange everything – from finance to cast – but the schadenfreude of this show now winning everything in sight, being lauded as a pinnacle of televisual achievement and getting recommissioned season after season, is just delightful.

Commissioners everywhere have to constantly balance risk and reward – but after spending much of my career in Europe, I’m wondering if there’s still just too much money floating around in America. This obsession with long running, returning series never developed in quite the same way outside of the US as the budgets just weren’t there. As a result, getting a three or six-hour limited series away was never seen as ‘less’ – and indeed, this approach has delivered some truly exquisite TV in recent years with series such as The English or Chernobyl in the UK or Clan in Belgium, all three amongst my personal favourites.

I’m not suggesting we do away with long-running series – they can become powerful brands that define channels and platforms, locking in subscribers and viewers and they employ vast numbers of people in the industry, often for years at a time. I just think it’s time to shake things up a little. More limited, mini or anthology series would mean even more creativity, more new ideas, more productions in general and even more choice for viewers. And crucially, bigger stars too. Major talent rarely wants to make a decade-long commitment to one show. Even two seasons is a lot for some: while I can’t wait to see what Jon Hamm brings in season three, I will miss seeing Steve Carell on The Morning Show.


But how do we balance the need for monetising a franchise with telling a great story and not run the risk of taking amazing IP and diluting it to the point where it starts to lose audience share and appeal? It’s inevitable really, that perhaps other than the procedurals that fill the schedules and that we all love to snack on from time to time, long-running dramas usually see fatigue set in at some point. Sadly, the plug rarely gets pulled at the right time.

And this is at the heart of why I’m a massive fan of limited series. They are fabulous at telling a rounded story – with proper beginnings, middles, and ends. With most of my time spent developing and producing scripted shows (yes, quite a few of my projects, but not all, are limited series), the time I have to actually watch TV is less than I’d like. So, when I do sit down to engage, I want great storylines, clever characters, resolutions and to know how much of my life I need to invest. I find it so much more satisfying than being left with a cliff-hanger after 12+ episodes and no idea if the show will return to resolve it – or know that it will return but have to wait another year for answers. It’s the difference between savouring one great and memorable meal each week at a leading restaurant versus having take-out from the same fast-food outlet every evening. I know what I’d prefer.

With so many streamers and channels, and the US more open to international ideas than ever before, I remain hopeful that we are entering a period of greater experimentation around content and that commissioning limited series won’t remain a niche activity. I’m calling for greater risk-taking – but I’m not quite sure why limited series are seen as a major risk in the first place. We have so much proof that good ones attract audiences, advertisers and awards, and provide great watercooler moments. And they rarely require the sort of investment that a long-running series needs.

On top of that, I have a sneaking suspicion that even the most powerful network and streamer execs use their down time wisely and enjoy a good limited series for all the same reasons I do. Let’s face it, in this industry, as in life, less is frequently more…

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