Not every TV series needs to run for multiple seasons – sometimes we need a defined beginning and end.
I have to confess I haven’t really warmed to Ryan Murphy’s ever expanding suite of television shows. I loved the first season of American Horror Story, but the camp factor in subsequent seasons has been a little too much for my taste – and don’t even get me started on his wildly OTT Scream Queens. And while I admired his Emmy Award-winning American Crime Story: OJ Simpson Vs The People, I personally found it a bit of slog.
What I really like about Murphy, however, is the fact that he has made limited run shows fashionable again. While there will always be a place for long-running TV series, Murphy’s success certainly seems to have reawakened a desire from networks for shows that actually have a defined beginning and end.
As well as AHS and AMS, this year has seen the launch of the first of Murphy’s latest franchise Feud, with volume one detailing the infamous Hollywood stoush between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. I’m also looking forward to Noah Hawley third instalment of Fargo, while other anthology-style shows in the pipeline include a mystery project inspired by the works of Alfred Hitchcock, a Stephen King franchise entitled Castle Rock and a western series from the Coen Brothers. With even the likes of the History Channel – their Hatfield & McCoys was one of the first to reignite interest in limited run shows – and National Geographic enthusiastically embracing the concept, it looks as if we are going to be spoilt for choice in the coming years.
Of course, the idea of a limited run show is nothing new, particularly outside the US, where most broadcasters don’t have the financial resources to support a large number of on-going TV series or shows with more than eight episodes. Generally, though, American networks seem to prefer programs which can run for a long period of time, which is understandable after all; as with movie sequels, if the first season proves to be a big hit, why mess with a winning formula?
The problem is that it’s a strategy that results in shows that can outstay their welcome. Take a series like Homeland: I’m a fan, but the whole premise of the show – has Damian Lewis’s marine been brainwashed into becoming a terrorist? – seems tailor-made for a one-off series, two at the most. Instead his character ended up sticking around for two more seasons and the show has continued without him for a further two series; it’s still eminently watchable, but it’s not in the same class as the first season.
Similarly, how many more seasons of House Of Cards can really be justified? Again, I love the show but it has become less credible every year. Interestingly, the American version of House Of Cards is now up to Episode 52, whereas the BBC condensed all three of Michael Dobbs’ original trilogy of books into 12 elegant episodes.
Another advantage of the limited run series is that the dreaded cliffhanger is also avoided; how many times have you bought home the latest season of your favourite show on DVD and Blu-ray only to discover that you are going to have to wait another year to find out what has happened to some key characters?
And while many Hollywood stars are much more comfortable switching between TV and film, a limited run series is always going to be a lot more appealing to a movie star than a show that they could end up stuck in for three or four years. Therefore a one-off series will always likely boast some serious star power.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a long-running TV show as much as the next person and I dread to think what Game Of Thrones would have been like if the entire saga was crammed into just 12 episodes or if the likes of Mad Men and Breaking Bad had been limited to just one season.
But there is room for both and let’s just hope that the success of Murphy’s anthology series will encourage more producers to come up with innovative and perfectly formed new shows that are not necessarily designed to run and run.