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The Emergence of Limited Series in Ramadan: A Hit or a Miss?

April 22, 2023

In the last two years, Egyptian screens have welcomed the 15-episode series trend to its Ramadan show race, which is typically dictated by an overflow of 30-episode shows to fit the whole month.

Limited series are not an entirely new concept; as the 1980s saw 15-episode shows like Raafat Al-Hagan (1988), 18-episode shows like Layali Al-Helmeya (1987), and more.

The miniseries trend was reignited in later decades as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, because actors and filmmakers had to take safety precautions while filming on sets.

Often known as ‘miniseries’ or ‘limited series’ — the shows have shone on their own, in a time that is restricted by short attention spans and fast-paced lifestyles.

The new wave of miniseries to emerge during Ramadan in Egypt was in 2021, with shows like Bein Al Sama Wi Al Ard (Between Heaven and Earth, ‘‘COVID-25’, and comedy show Ahsan Ab (Best Father). In 2022, the trend continued to flourish, with successful shows like teen drama Meen ‘Al (Who Said?) and Betlou’ El Roh (Backbreaking) in 2022.

In 2023, the Ramadan line-up was filled with over 30 limited shows, some airing during the first half of Ramadan, and others during its later half.

The first half saw shows like El Harsha El Saba’a (The Seven-Year Itch), ‘Rasheed’, Kamel El Adad (Full House), Mozakerat Zog (A Husband’s Diary), and others. The second half of Ramadan saw shows like Taghyeer Gaw (Change of Scene), Al Sandouq (Mystery Box), and Harb (War), which is a 10-episode series.

Despite viewers being used to watching shows that lasted the entire length of the month of Ramadan, some watchers are happy with the change to 15-episode dramas, which have emerged as strong forces of their own. So, what is the reason behind their appeal?

So Was it a Hit or a Miss?

Over post-iftar tea and late night suhoors, Egyptians gather around discussing the plots of mosalsalat in Ramadan. For 30 days, the audience gets to pick and choose from an overflow of shows, get attached to characters, and predict and guess plots.

While the array of lengthy Egyptian television shows have predated television screens and streaming platforms for decades, the introduction of shorter shows has appealed to many watchers.

“I think 15-episode shows in Ramadan are ideal for many reasons,” says Farh Al-Wishi, International Law Graduate at the American University in Cairo. “For starters, it allows me room to watch several shows without the burden of being overwhelmed.”

The length of the dramas also allows the viewer to watch several shows at the same time.

“Longer TV shows sometimes fail to keep the audience entertained throughout the whole month. More often than not, showmakers put filler episodes, which make me less interested in the long run,” Al-Wishi explains.

Miniseries tend to avoid unnecessary subplots and filler episodes that can bore the interviewer, and instead, have a well-developed storyline and structured narratives for the plots.

In a highly competitive streaming age and viewers’ decreasing inclination to watch shows that run long, the question that remains is whether the trend of the miniseries will continue to dominate the screens.

Beyond Al-Wishi, the concept of the miniseries yielded the appeal of many viewers on social media. Some argued that the 15-episode shows are better for various reasons, including fewer working hours for the showmakers and the actors, who often spend countless hours in Ramadan filming the shows. Secondly, is that having limited shows allows for more diversity and options in the shows.

However, some viewers also expressed their dislike for the limited show trend in Ramadan. Essentially, they argued that limited shows have a smaller window to uncover characters, plots, and arcs, which sometimes is not enough time for the full development of a show.

Certain viewers also explained that although they like the idea of the short shows, they think it falls better beyond the spheres of Ramadan, since they are used to shows that run the entire course of the month.

Few people also underscored that the quality of the show and its duration do not necessarily correlate, because although so far, many short series turned out to be successes, some did not. Some limited series fell into the trap of bulking information, plots, and characters in their limited time frame, resulting in audiences’ disappointment.

Menna Shalaby’s show Taghyeer Gaw, for instance, which tells the story of Sherifa (Menna Shalaby) who leaves Egypt for Beirut to uncover hidden truths, led some watchers to take to social media, expressing their frustration with how slow the show is. And given that it is only 15 episodes, they fear that the ending will be abrupt and not cohesive enough.

The watchers explained that as far as eight out of 15 episodes into the show, they still have no clear idea on the overarching purpose of the story or the message behind the show.

Ultimately, while there seems to be a shift in the approach to Ramadan series, mirroring the worldwide trend of more compact works of television, the limited duration is not a guarantee of quality. The question is, will mini-series become the norm in the years to come, or will the 30-episode epics make a comeback?

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