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Mini Series, Event Series & Limited Series – What’s the Difference?


With the drastic changes in the TV arena these days, you hear the terms mini series, limited series and event series being tossed around all the time. They all sound synonymous but their actually is a difference:

Mini Series
The Primetime Emmys defines a miniseries as being more than six hours in two or more parts. It also must be close-ended. Famous miniseries include ROOTS, BAND OF BROTHERS and FARGO. Miniseries aren’t so much literal “mini series,” in that they are small versions of the on-going 22-episode series that networks put on the air, but more like extended TV movies, which is perhaps why they are included in the same awards category as TV movies.


Limited Series
Limited series and miniseries are not interchangeable. Limited series indicates that a network sees potential in a show to continue for many seasons, but the actual seasons themselves needn’t be 22 episodes long. It can also refer to a show the network wants to try out in smaller doses with the possibility of renewal based on how well it does in the ratings.

UNDER THE DOME is an example of a limited series that worked — it was never designed to be one season and done, but if the ratings hadn’t been there, CBS would not have renewed it. The ratings were good, however, so CBS ordered a second (and still only 13-episode) season. KILLER WOMEN is an example of a limited series that isn’t working. ABC ordered eight episodes, but the ratings are terrible, so it’s ending earlier than scheduled and not likely be picked up. But it wasn’t intended from the get-go to be a miniseries.


Event Series
This category is can be synonymous with mini series. Technically, an event series is based on a specific “event”, therefore it is close ended. But series in the past like LOST and JERICHO are based on events that managed to prolong their run to several seasons. Nowadays, and event series like TRUE DETECTIVE or FARGO or AMERICAN HORROR STORY will use the built-in brand that the original series created and use it to create a new story line with new characters in the second season.

FOX has also called its upcoming WAYWARD PINES an event series, but if the ratings are “Under the Dome”-like, it’s a safe bet it will similarly be extended like the CBS drama was last summer.


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