Why We Need More TV Event Series

by Alicia Lutes

ABC has announced that it's joining the event series fold alongside Bravo, FOX, and a few others with its latest bit of visual storytelling to get the developmental go-ahead, Esmeralda. And while we'll wait to reserve judgment on yet-another fairy tale retelling (this time, for The Hunchback of Notre Dame), we will say this: keep making event series, you guys. It's the next wave of television programming.

When you think about it, the event series really does fill the niche that was lost when we got rid of mid-level films — these days it feels like everything's either an indie or an epic. Ask a writer and most would admit that they love telling a fully-fleshed out story, but sometimes feel their concept is limited by the two-ish hour requirement that befalls most cinematic efforts.

Conversely, trying to tell that story in the hypothetically wide open, this-must-have-multi-season-potential of television may dilute or cheapen the scope of the initial vision. So what's a storyteller to do when they're not a girl, not yet a woman, metaphorically speaking? Accept the in-between and go mini! Which is why true-blue (no, we're not looking at you, Under the Dome) limited/event series are the perfect middle ground.

Besides, has any genre deserved an upgrade more than the miniseries? Because, I mean, really, that's what event/limited series are, essentially — just with a snazzier, buzzier, more advertiser-friendly façade. And good for it! See, taking the glasses off the hot girl and realizing that her potential was there all along works, you guys. The miniseries has been left to rot for far too long as it is: TV movies got the glamorous re-go-ahead years ago and have the star power now to merit them a success, and multi-camera series are trying to make themselves happen again this year. (Will it be fetch, though, Gretchen Wieners?) Which just leaves the miniseries, lagging behind somewhere in the 1990s next to some old, worn-out VHS copies of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and a signed photo of Donald Sutherland.

The most important thing to remember, though? Take a page from series that have done it really, really fucking well. Like Sundance Channel's Top of the Lake, for instance. Strong, beautiful storytelling both visually and on the page, combined with killer casting and a strong narrative structure? An unfolding tale with a bit of a long game going on? Is there anything a TV lover could want more? No! Of course not. That's our bread and butter!

And creating a miniseries/event series such as one that allowed for the best pieces of all the puzzles to come together without too much commitment to scare off bigger players (like series star, Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss, and its creator Jane Campion) is the sweet spot. And don't you worry about advertising dollars, networks, because I thought of an answer for you, too: Bigger stars draw bigger sales, as does the exclusiveness of a limited-run thing, right? I mean, it feels logical if nothing else. "Event" is right in the name for chrissakes. I'm sure those brilliant ad sales minds can come up with a hook.

Besides, the medium would be a great breeding ground for new, up-and-coming talent. Have a writer you like but doesn't totally have the TV credentials to back it up? Have 'em work on an event series, prove their chops, and get their teeth wet — so to speak. And if the series does well? Ta-da! Built-in fan base and track record, perfect springboard for said writer/director/talent you've got your eye on to catapult them into a new, non-mini series. Tell me you're pickin' up what I'm puttin' down, executive types. Because you should, because it's a damn good idea. Admit it!

Needless to say, somewhere, far within the deepest recesses of the American Horror Story production offices, Ryan Murphy sits anxiously, awaiting his future Emmy competition.

[Photo Credit: Parisa Taghizadeh for Sundance Channel]