Brevity is the soul of se­ries

View­ers are get­ting fed up with sto­ry­lines that go on for years, lead­ing to a fall in the aver­age length of TV se­ries, writes Tim Walker

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - MEDIA& MARKETING -

LET’S say you’ve man­aged to keep up with ev­ery ma­jor US TV drama of the past 15 years: 86 episodes of The So­pra­nos, 60 episodes of The Wire, 192 episodes of 24 (not in­clud­ing the TV movie), 121 episodes of Lost – though per­haps you gave that up halfway through, so let’s say 60 episodes of Break­ing Bad and count­ing, 78 of Mad Men, 30 of Game of Thrones. That’s more than three weeks of solid TV view­ing – be­fore you even get to Home­land or The West Wing.

View­ers are swamped by the ex­cess of qual­ity pro­gram­ming avail­able. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to Michael Lyn­ton, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Sony Cor­po­ra­tion of Amer­ica and Sony En­ter­tain­ment, there is a so­lu­tion – fewer se­ries, more minis­eries.

Speak­ing at the Aspen Ideas Fes­ti­val re­cently, Lyn­ton said: “There is a point where peo­ple – it’s al­ready hap­pen­ing – are say­ing ‘ Enough! Am I re­ally go­ing to de­vote three, four, five years of my life to an­other show about an­other dys­func­tional guy do­ing an­other thing?’ “

That over­load, he sug­gested, would lead to an in­evitable de­cline in the aver­age length of TV se­ries, from ca­ble’s 10 to 13 episodes and net­work dra­mas’ 22 to 24.

“What’s re­turn­ing is the minis­eries,” he said. “You saw it with Hat­fields & McCoys. And you saw more re­cent ex­am­ples where you say to the con­sumer: ‘You don’t have to de­vote five years of your life. You don’t even have to de­vote a year of your life. All of you have to give us is six hours, eight hours.’

“Great writ­ers and di­rec­tors will re­spond even bet­ter to a six-hour or eight- hour story arc than they would to com­mit­ting their life to five years of 13 hours.”

It is true that Hat­fields & McCoys, a 2012 minis­eries com­mis­sioned by the His­tory Chan­nel and based on the tale of feud­ing 19th­cen­tury clans, was a suc­cess and won sev­eral Em­mys.

The His­tory Chan­nel fol­lowed it up this year with its 10-hour The Bi­ble, a sur­prise hit watched by more than 95 mil­lion view­ers.

The Bi­ble’s suc­cess re­calls that of an­other bib­li­cal TV hit, Je­sus of Nazareth, made in the 1970s dur­ing a golden era for the minis­eries form, which in­cluded the slav­ery epic Roots.

That era came to an end in the US be­cause of spi­ralling costs but the minis­eries model has proved more re­silient in the UK, which pro­duced Tin­ker, Tai­lor, Sol­dier, Spy at the end of the 1970s, Edge of Dark­ness in the 1980s, House of Cards in the 1990s and State of Play in the 2000s.

In the US, the minis­eries has been re­vi­talised in part by film-mak­ers dis­il­lu­sioned with Hol­ly­wood. In 2011, Todd Haynes, the Os­car-nom­i­nated writer and di­rec­tor of Far from Heaven, won praise for his five-part ver­sion of Mil­dred Pierce, with Kate Winslet.

Steven Spiel­berg, pro­duc­ing his third wartime minis­eries for HBO, is re­port­edly de­vel­op­ing Stan­ley Kubrick’s pas­sion pro­ject, Napoleon, as a TV minis­eries.

Bri­tish view­ers were re­cently treated to Top of the Lake, a seven-part crime drama set in New Zealand cre­ated by film di­rec­tor Jane Cam­pion. She told BlackBook mag­a­zine: “The novel is prob­a­bly my favourite form (of sto­ry­telling), and the idea of a six-hour se­ries is as close to a novel as I can imag­ine.”

Look out for th­ese com­pelling minis­eries on­line:

● May­day: It’s May Day and a small com­mu­nity waits ex­cit­edly for this year’s pa­gan pa­rade to be­gin. Teenager and dark horse Li­nus New­combe ( Max Fowler) watches woe­fully as the love of his life Caitlin Sut­ton ( Leila Mim­mack), kisses a ri­val. On the other side of town, Caitlin’s twin and the May Queen, Hat­tie Sut­ton (Leila Mim­mack), is on her jour­ney to ap­pear as the town’s sym­bol of new life. Star­ring So­phie Okonedo, Peter Firth and Ai­dan Gillen.

● Broad­church: The mur­der of a young boy in a small coastal town brings a me­dia frenzy. With Olivia Col­man, David Ten­nant, Jodie Whit­taker and An­drew Buchan.

● The Fall: Gil­lian An­der­son (Agent Scully of The X-Files ) stars as DSI Stella Gib­son. It’s a grip­ping psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller that foren­si­cally ex­am­ines the lives of two hunters within one story.

● Top of the Lake: Twelve years old and five months preg­nant, Tui Mitcham sud­denly dis­ap­pears from her re­mote moun­tain town. De­tec­tive Robin Grif­fin re­turns home to in­ves­ti­gate but ev­ery step closer to solv­ing the case un­earths a danger­ous truth about her past. With Elis­a­beth Moss, Thomas M Wright, Peter Mul­lan and David Wen­ham. – The In­de­pen­dent

BRIEF SE­RIES: Kate Winslet as Mil­dred Pierce.

May­day

IT’S SPRING:

Top of the Lake

PUZ­ZLE:

Broad­church

FRENZY:

The Fall.

THRILLER: Gil­lian An­der­son as de­tec­tive Stella Gib­son in sus­pense­ful

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