Appeal Without Limits


The limited scripted-series format received a ringing endorsement from viewers of USA Network’s The 4400 and Turner Network Television’s The Grid.

Executives from the two networks said they’re considering returning both limited-run offerings and developing future series after experiencing higher-than-expected returns from the two summer dramas.


USA’s The 4400 — about the lives of alien abductees returned to Earth — finished its six-episode run with a 4.6 average household rating, according to Nielsen Media Research data. USA claims that performance makes The 4400 the top-rated series in basic-cable history, an arguable distinction given that it featured fewer episodes than most scripted original skeins.

“We knew it was great, but we didn’t think it would be the most successful series ever,” said USA Network executive vice president of series and long-form programming Jeff Wachtel.

The network is “actively pursuing” the option of bringing back The 4400 for a sophomore season, said Wachtel, but he would not reveal specific details. USA is also looking at other potential limited series debuts, but Wachtel said nothing is currently etched in stone.

Wachtel said a limited series gives a network more options than with traditional, longer-form scripted skeins, including potential pay-per-view and video-on-demand distribution — although he didn’t disclose any such plans for The 4400. The network earlier this year offered Traffic, another limited series, on a PPV basis to generate additional revenue.

“I think in basic cable there has to be a value-added component,” Wachtel said. “One of the good things about a limited series is that they can be used in a number of ways.” While not performing as well as the USA offering, TNT’s The Grid nevertheless exceeded the drama network’s expectations, averaging a 2.8 household rating for its six-episode run. The terrorism-based series, starring Julianna Margulies (ER), beat shows on both The WB and UPN each week in such key demos as adults 25 to 54 and men 18 to 34, according to TNT.


TNT and TBS executive vice president and general manager Steve Koonin said the network has not decided whether it will return The Grid, but it will continue to offer limited series in the future. On tap: the 12-hour, Steven Spielberg-produced Into the West, set to bow next summer.

Koonin credits Home Box Office for trailblazing the platform with such limited-episode series as The Wire.

“We think the [limited series] format is one that will work — it’s a consumer-friendly trend,” Koonin said. “The performance of USA’s The 4,400 and The Grid validates the format.”