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From Netflix's 'Queen's Gambit' to HBO's 'Undoing,' here's how the miniseries is leading TVs revolution

Alexandra Canal
·Producer
·3 min read
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The miniseries format is back in vogue with the success of shows like Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” (NFLX) and HBO’s “The Undoing” (T) — scoring multiple Golden Globe nominations and high praise from the critics.

Miniseries were first made popular in the U.S. in the 1970s with widely successful shows like “Roots,” “The Winds of War,” and “Centennial” adopting the reduced episode format.

Yet despite record ratings, the format was once perceived as an unsustainable genre within the traditional network era. They embraced long-running programs and the the automatic ratings return they generated.

“A lot of this has to do with the fact that the business model of watching television has totally changed,” Syracuse University Professor of TV and Pop Culture Robert Thompson told Yahoo Finance in a recent interview.

In the 70s, television producers sought what Thompson called “habit formation. They wanted you to come back every Thursday or every Tuesday and watch the same shows year after year after year — but streaming has completely changed that.”

Netflix's "The Queen's Gambit" scored multiple Golden Globe nominations (Credit: Netflix)
Netflix's "The Queen's Gambit" scored multiple Golden Globe nominations (Credit: Netflix)

However, streaming’s flexibility — which allows viewers to watch whatever they want, whenever they choose— has allowed space for the miniseries to shine.

Additionally, the simplified, six to ten episode arc allows for a more concise beginning, middle and end. It results in a higher-quality product that streamers can capitalize on, in order to lure in subscribers and expand their inventory.

So does that mean we should say goodbye to network classics like “The Big Bang Theory,” “The Office,” or “Friends” — which have 12, 10 and 9 seasons, respectively?

The answer is probably not.

“The real big money is still in television,” Thompson revealed — citing the value those shows brought to Netflix prior to their departures to rival platforms.

In fact, according to Nielsen’s streaming list, “The Office” saw nearly 1.3 billion in viewing minutes across all 192 episodes between December 7-13 last year — making it the number one show across all platforms at the time.

"The Office" is one of the most successful series on streaming
"The Office" is one of the most successful series on streaming

“Miniseries are great for art and fit into the subscription model beautifully, but if you’re looking for value that keeps on giving, some of these olden day, three-camera sitcoms are the biggest producers,” Thompson said.

But there is one format that works to combine both the habit formation of a traditional series and the brand identity of a miniseries — and it’s one that Thompson’s incredibly bullish on.

“Fargo,” “American Crime Story,” “American Horror Story,” and “True Detective” are all examples of anthology series. They completely reset every season, yet still maintain the core values of the story.

“It’s a way of getting the brand equity and, at the same time, the excitement of a show that can start and finish when it should start and finish.”

Alexandra Canal is a producer & entertainment correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193.

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