There was a time in the 1970s and 1980s when the TV mini series was the go-to form for blockbuster network programming. Often used as a way to adapt best-selling novels into TV films, the mini series offered an alternative format for a subject that was too big to fit into the framework of a feature film and yet closed-ended, as opposed to the subject matter of an episodic series that could, theoretically, go on forever.
Among the most popular early mini series were ratings giants base on novels such as Alex Haley's "Roots," James Michener's "Centennial," Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove," Colleen McCullough's "The Thorn Birds," and James Clavell's "Shogun," the latter two of which starred mini series favorite Richard Chamberlain.
Many modern mini series are still based on novels, but the nonfiction mini series has become a popular form, too; Neil deGrasse Tyson's 2014 reboot of Carl Sagan's 1980 "Cosmos" mini series is an example. The relatively short seasons of contemporary episodic series, as compared to series seasons of two or more decades ago, also tends to blur the line between true mini series and episodic series that end after a few dozen episodes.