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Hollywood is redefining Peak TV—for better and for worse

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a paradox in Hollywood: audiences stuck at home have been streaming more content than ever, but fewer projects are going into production due to stringent and costly safety protocols.

A possible solution to sufficiently feed the need for new programming while keeping productions short and relatively budget-friendly? The still underutilized limited series format—and it could solve even more problems than all of the above.

Once thought of as a relic of yesteryear, the limited series—or miniseries, depending on which generation you belong to—has rapidly shifted back into focus. In fact, it was only six years ago that the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences adjusted its Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series category to better accommodate what networks were churning out and solidified the format’s definition as a series with at least two episodes with a total running time of at least 150 program minutes that tells a non-recurring story. In every year since, we’ve seen new limited series that are both ratings magnets and critical darlings: The Queen’s GambitThe UndoingWatchmenChernobylThe Night OfSharp ObjectsWhen They See Us.

The idea of telling a fully contained story in roughly 10 or less episodes might be an attractive option for networks and studios looking to avoid extensive shoots amid high COVID-19 compliance costs—insurance alone can increase budgets by 10% or more—not to mention the Netflix-era imperative to rapidly generate binge-able hours.

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