In today’s television landscape, the “limited series” is prevalent and has entered prestige territory, with top-tier actors and awards glory. Decades ago, however, the miniseries was a staple television event. There used to be specific months (November, February, May) when ratings got recorded to translate into advertising dollars. Those “sweeps” months often featured a miniseries or two on the broadcast networks. In 2000, an ambitious miniseries aired on NBC: The 10th Kingdom. Through its sheer length, combined with silly humor and a familiar setting, it invites the audience to immerse themselves in its world.
Produced in part by the miniseries veterans Robert Halmi and Robert Halmi Sr., The 10th Kingdom has a large, star-studded cast headed by John Larroquette and Kimberly Williams-Paisley. They play father and daughter Tony and Virginia Lewis, who travel through a magic mirror portal and enter the fairytale world of the 9 Kingdoms. (The 10th Kingdom refers to our world!) They discover they are the key to saving the entire realm from an evil Queen. The supporting cast includes Dianne Wiest, Scott Cohen, Ed O’Neill, and Rutger Hauer. The miniseries is longer than most, lasting 10 hours when broadcast with commercials.
Given a miniseries’ running time, the viewer expects scope and breadth when watching it. Perhaps there will be many years or places covered, or epic visuals. The journey Virginia and Tony experience easily fits into this mold. Though some establishing shots had to be computer-generated, it is also clear a lot of location shooting went into this adventure. Early on, much of the plot feels episodic, but the writers also had the ending (in which reveals Tony and Virginia’s surprising connection to the 9 Kingdoms) planned from the beginning. Fairytales provide magic, romance, and action to the audience, and this miniseries does it well.
Virginia and Tony arrive in what they learn was Snow White’s kingdom, or the 4th of the 9 Kingdoms, described as being a vast piece of land and central in location to all the others. Snow’s grandson Wendell tells them the stories they know occurred about 200 years earlier, so people age much more slowly in the Kingdoms! Another thing to note is all the characters who attend Wendell’s coronation; they are from the tales we all recognize (Red Riding Hood, The Emperor Without Clothes, etc) and populate the other kingdoms. All this lends a background to the story that makes audiences want to know more. What exciting adventures are happening in the 1st or 5th Kingdoms, for example? The Bavarian design elements of the 4th Kingdom feel familiar and prompt the viewer to wonder what the rest of this world looks like, as well.
Those watching know the environment and atmosphere of The 10th Kingdom already, so when this miniseries also serves up laughs and excitement, you want to stay. The long running time allows you to do just that. The audience may even hope for more of this tale. The studio clearly hoped this could become a possibility because Virginia’s voiceover ends the series with the words, “This is the end of the first book of the 10th Kingdom.” Though this prospect is unlikely after such a long time, I for one would happily give even more time to The 10th Kingdom.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Sexton lives in Ohio with her dog Lily. Her favorite things are movies and books, and her hobby is editing fan videos.