Back for a Limited Time – Event Series
Most of the time, when a series is cancelled, that’s the end of it. There are, of course, some exceptions. Some shows are continued as graphic novels (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville), some shows get brought back by the network after cancellation (Chuck, Family Guy, Community), some shows get picked up by other networks or streaming services (New Girl, Community, Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Starting in 2014, an interesting new idea came into fruition: bringing back older, cancelled series in a limited, “event series” form. This is still a relatively new idea, but slowly, it is becoming more popular.
So what exactly is an event series? An event series is a series that has been given a limited number of episodes (usually 8-12), and typically is not meant for more than one season, although there have been exceptions (like Agent Carter and Under the Dome). Event series are not exclusive to older, returning shows, and the term can be interchanged with “limited series,” which is a series given a limited number of episodes. The only difference is that a limited series is usually made with more than one season in mind.
FOX has been the pioneer of sequel event series. In fact, three of the four sequel event series that have aired or are about to air have come from FOX. The very first event series that picked up an older show was 2014’s immensely popular 24: Live Another Day, which gave FOX some of its best ratings of the year. Last year, NBC tried this with Heroes Reborn. FOX liked the response from 24: Live Another Day, so it has commissioned two event series: the highly-anticipated return of The X-Files, which has just begun, and the 24 counterpart Prison Break. Showtime will be the first cable network to foray into sequel event series with the highly-anticipated return of the cult classic Twin Peaks in 2017.
Few things are scarier to networks than trying something that has never been done before. With that in mind, why did networks choose to try this experiment in the first place? Because it’s really not that risky of a gamble. Firstly, the networks are picking up a series that already has a built-in fan base. Theoretically, most or all of that fan base will get behind the event series, giving the networks a generally idea before even going into production what the ratings may look like. Secondly, the limited number of episodes is absolutely ideal, especially for broadcast networks that are used to commissioning 20+ episodes a season for its shows. With a limited number of episodes, everyone wins. Fans get to see their favorite show come back and don’t have to worry about the show getting pulled partway through if the ratings aren’t good. With a limited number of episodes, the money lost by continuing to air an unpopular show most likely won’t be enough to justify pulling it from the network’s lineup. Also, a limited number of episodes saves the network money because it’s not paying nearly as much as they are for a show that has 20+ episodes. If the show isn’t a hit, they know that in a few weeks, it will be out of their lineup and the problem will be solved. If anything, it gives network executives a few extra weeks to brainstorm what to do with that time slot, regardless of if the show is a hit or not.
Sequel event series are quickly becoming a normal thing, which is something TV fans can get excited about seeing. They offer a chance to see your favorite characters again, however brief that may be, and catch up with what they’ve been doing during the hiatus. For the networks, it’s almost a slam dunk hit. The limited case studies show that these types of series generally do well. It looks like sequel event series are here to stay, and I think that’s something we can all be happy about.
Matt is a 23-year-old producer, director, and writer from DFW, Texas, who holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Film, TV, and Digital Media from Texas Christian University and is now an apprentice at the Center for Creative Media. His ultimate goal is to bring glory to God as a showrunner on TV. He is fueled by laughter, music, and donuts. Lots and lots of donuts.