Miniseries have never been more popular. Just don’t call them that.
The genre is having a renaissance in the United States: HBO’s True Detective and FX’s Fargo aired to great acclaim this year; CBS will roll out Under the Dome and Extant, starring Halle Berry, in the coming weeks; Fox, ABC, and NBC all have scheduled their own for next season.
But nobody calls these shows “miniseries,” anymore. Instead, the networks have embraced terms like “limited series” and “event series” to describe programs with a predetermined end or cast that changes from season to season.
So what’s the difference? Not even the people running the networks can answer that one. “I don’t know,” NBC Entertainment president Robert Greenblatt admitted to reporters at the Television Critics Association’s press tour in January.
“It’s a genre that has kind of gone out of our sort of vocabulary for a long time because we stopped doing them,” said Greenblatt. “I think we use the word miniseries when something is closed-ended and can’t continue … I don’t know what a limited series is.”
And why has the term “miniseries” become so verboten? “I don’t think it’s that it’s a bad word, it just reflects the evolution in our business,” Nina Tassler, the chair of CBS Entertainment, tells Quartz. “Under the Dome is a limited series because it’s shorter than the traditional 22-24 episode order. And we like the word ‘event’ in that, because you have promote it in a way that goes above and beyond your requisite promotional model.”