Tube Talk: Event television: ‘Luther’ begins season with four-day ‘event’

By Paula Hendrickson
Contributing Writer

It’s an understatement to say that the astounding success of History’s Hatfields & McCoys drew the attention of both cable and broadcast network executives. Not only was that miniseries a ratings hit, it won five Emmy Awards. Better yet, people were talking and tweeting about it immediately after it aired.

Before Hatfields & McCoys, PBS and cable networks were the only outlets that thought miniseries were still a viable format. Broadcast networks that set ratings history in the ’70s and ’80s with miniseries like Roots, Rich Man, Poor Man and The Thorn Birds had all but abandoned the genre until recently. This summer NBC announced an ambitious slate of TV movies and miniseries for 2014 and beyond. The big difference is now they’re calling it “event television.”

Basically, event television is a short run — or better yet, live — broadcast that encourages people to view it live or at least on the same day. Why? So they won’t feel as if they missed out on something special, like BBC America’s Luther — which returns for a four-night television event starting Sept. 3.

Luther isn’t a miniseries, exactly, since it’s already entering its third season. Only 10 episodes have aired so far, so it might be better to call it a series composed of miniseries. The first Luther miniseries was six episodes, the second season had four episodes, as does the new season.

It’s not an entirely new way of airing a TV series in the U.K., where shorter seasons are the norm. Some programs even take years off between new seasons, making them all the more eventful.

Fans of Luther and its star, Idris Elba (Pacific Rim, The Wire), already know why the dark, gritty drama about an unpredictable London police detective who can do bad things for good reasons is so addictive. Luther may be a thought-provoking British mystery-thriller, but it’s fast-paced and full of action as well. Saying much more than that might spoil it for the uninitiated.

It’s not too late for the rest of you to catch up by watching previous episodes On Demand or online at

Airing all four episodes of Luther on consecutive nights may even add to the already intense viewing experience, barely giving viewers a chance to breathe before pressure increases with the next episode. Seems like quite a TV event, indeed.

Programming notes

Luther episode 1 airs Tuesday, Sept. 3, at 9 p.m. Central on BBC America

Luther episode 2 airs Wednesday, Sept. 4, at 8 p.m. Central (before Broadchurch) on BBC America

Luther episode 3 airs Thursday, Sept. 5, at 9 p.m. Central on BBC America

Luther episode 4 airs Friday, Sept. 6, at 9 p.m. Central on BBC America

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to

From the Aug. 28-Sept. 3, 2013, issue

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