Three separate British TV productions made their way to DVD this year, all sporting 90+ minute episode running times. There may be others, but the Red Riding Trilogy, Wallander, and Sherlock have seemingly set the table for a very intriguing and rewarding programming format, one that I hope catches on this side of the Atlantic.
As has been posted about before, the Red Riding series, made by Screen Yorkshire and Channel Four Film, is a collection of three stellar tele-films that stand amongst the best movies released this year, theatrical or otherwise. That they were made for TV is incidental. If you haven't seen them, do so at your earliest convenience. Wallander is a BBC-Scotland/Yellow Bird series with 3 episode seasons and run times of about 90 minutes as well. They suffer from a little overt miserablism, but Kenneth Branagh is excellent (and wonderfully dour) in the lead. They're based on the novels by Swedish author Henning Mankel (Bergman's son-in-law out of interest) and Season 1 is uniformly terrific. Season 2 is less so, but is still worth watching. Easy recommends to the Brit TV crowd at the very least.
The most recent example of the 90 minute TV-series I seen is an outstanding update of the Sherlock Holmes story, simply entitled Sherlock. Made by BBC Whales (didn't know such a beast existed, but the Internet does not lie), the first three episodes are riveting, most particularly the first and third. The casting is superb, the update to the modern world seamless (and wildly entertaining) and the pacing spot on. This is a home-run series and it's made a whole lot better by the extended running times. They are a perfect for for DVD as well, although I wish they had have done one episode per disk. As it is, they are difficult to split up for rental, but whatever.
I think this hour-and-a-half series idea has some real legs. It's a neat marriage of the perfect feature-length running time (+/- 90 minutes), but with the familiarity and audience comfort zone of the TV series format. In hindsight, six 90-minute Sopranos or Wire episodes per season might have really changed the dynamic of those shows (and perhaps even given them a shot at theatrical runs, they were certainly good enough). I gotta think that some cable/network gurus are working up something along those lines as we speak (and who knows...perhaps they've gone as far as getting their own whales alreadyt). If they can pull off something half as good as the Brit whales are doing these days, we may have something of a new format on our hands in due course.