What is a Limited Series?


Introduction

In television programming, limited-run series (or simply limited series) is a programme with an end date and limit to the number of episodes each stated by release of the first episode. For instance, The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ definition specifies a “program with two (2) or more episodes with a total running time of at least 150 program minutes[,] that tells a complete, non-recurring story, and does not have an on-going storyline and/or main characters in subsequent seasons.” Limited-run series are represented in the form of telenovelas in Latin America, and serials in the United Kingdom.

The shortest forms of limited-run series have two- or three-part, usually described as “made for television film” or miniseries in the United States; longer forms are often reality television or scripted dramas.

A limited series may refer also to:

  • Limited series, individual storylines within an anthology series;
  • Limited series, a particular run of collectables, usually individually numbered;
  • Limited series (comics), a comics series with a predetermined number of issues; or
  • Limited series (television), a television show with a predetermined number of episodes telling a complete story arc, usually longer than a miniseries.

Parameters

Limited-run series with greater than 5 episodes do not have main characters recurring between seasons or a storyline that spans seasons. Series with 5 episodes or fewer per season – such as the BBC/Masterpiece coproduction Sherlock – also are considered limited series due to their short run, even if main characters and story lines do travel across seasons. Series with a limited eight-to-twelve episode run are typically ordered to fill television networks’ gap in midseason.

Classification

Limited series differ from miniseries as the production has the potential to be renewed without a required number of episodes as a typical order per season. Under the Dome, Killer Women, and Luther were marketed as limited series. Individual season-length stories of anthology series such as American Horror Story, Fargo, and True Detective are also described as “limited series,” which the Primetime Emmys have changed to their miniseries/limited series category to accommodate.

Actors may choose to take part in limited-run series because their set start and end dates make scheduling other projects easier.

Brief History

In 2015, The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences changed its guidelines on how Emmy nominees are classified, with shows with a limited run all referred to as “limited series” instead of “miniseries.” This is a reversion back to 1974 when the category was named “outstanding limited series.” It had been changed to “outstanding miniseries” in 1986, and then added to the “made for television films” category in 2011. Miniseries were brought back out in 2014, accommodating such limited series as HBO’s Olive Kitteridge, History’s Texas Rising, IFC’s The Honourable Woman and PBS’ Wolf Hall, and TV movies such as HBO’s Bessie and National Geographic’s Killing Jesus.

Development

United States

Short term reality television like Bravo’s Eat, Drink, Love, scripted dramas like Netflix’s Black Mirror, and individual seasons of anthology series are examples of limited-run series that appear on American television networks.

Latin America

In the 1950s, telenovelas emerged as Latin limited series. These low-budget Spanish and Portuguese shows were modelled after American soap operas in style and form. These programs follow a story arc that ends at the end of a season, with the possibility of renewal for subsequent seasons.

United Kingdom

In British television, the term “serial” is used instead of “miniseries.” Like telenovelas, these programmes are stand-alone dramas, with a conclusion at the last episode of the series.

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