Will more TV episodes be shown as event cinema?

Feature Mark Harrison 22 Aug 2014 - 06:30

With the Doctor Who series 8 opener coming to cinemas tomorrow night, Mark asks whether more TV could be screened as cinematic events...

If you're a Doctor Who fan lucky enough to see 50th anniversary episode The Day Of The Doctor in a cinema last November, you probably saw it the way it was meant to be seen. With a giant “Woo” moment coming approximately every ten minutes, it has the air of a story that is too big for your living room. It may still have been a feature-length episode, but it's one that was meant to be watched surrounded by other fans.

That one worked out pretty well for BBC Worldwide - the special screenings took £6m globally in its opening weekend. That's not bad considering it only showed on Saturday evening and Sunday morning in most cinemas. Having proven a viable strategy, the BBC are doing the same with tomorrow's grand opening to the Peter Capaldi era, Deep Breath.

At 76 minutes, the episode will run for the same length as the 50th anniversary special and also be accompanied by a making-of featurette and a live satellite Q&A with Capaldi. If that one does well, should this be the start of more geek TV being shown as event cinema?

Well, it does mean that you'll be charged event cinema prices for the privilege of seeing an episode on the big screen. Usual events include live broadcasts of theatre, concerts and sporting events and are charged at something of a premium over regular movie tickets. To be totally fair, it's not like the BBC is milking this by screening the whole run of series 8, even though they'd surely find that some fans were happy to fork out their dough.

But it's not just geek TV that has been finding success on the big screen. The Inbetweeners 2 is on track to become one of the biggest box office hits of the year in the UK. Not bad for a sequel that deliberately and delightfully goes right back to the tone of the E4 sitcom on which it was based. Spooks will hit the big screen next year in a film spin-off called The Greater Good and sequels to the Alan Partridge and Mrs Brown's Boys movies are also on their way to cinemas.

But the old complaint about movies following on from TV shows is that “they're just longer episodes”. More literally, that's what the event cinema screenings of Doctor Who have been. Then again, the “event” status has thus far been preserved - we've had a multi-Doctor anniversary show and we're about to get the anticipated debut of a new Doctor, both running longer than the usual 45 minutes.

If this was going to be a trend though, which geek TV fixtures might we see making their way to the big screen? Handily, the most obvious BBC property is also being overseen by Steven Moffat.

Sherlock episodes are already feature-length. Moffat has previously joked that the TV version is better than Guy Ritchie's Hollywood franchise version with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, because they've made nine movies while, as of 2011's A Game Of Shadows, Ritchie et al are still on a measly two.

Another popular geek series that has been mooted for a big screen conversion is Game Of Thrones, with author George R.R. Martin suggesting something of what we don't know from the books yet by saying that the series should end with a film.

Around the time season four started airing, Martin told The Hollywood Reporter: “It all depends on how long the main series runs. Do we run for 7 years? Do we run for 8? Do we run for 10? The books get bigger and bigger (in scope). It might need a feature to tie things up, something with a feature budget, like $100 million for two hours. Those dragons get real big, you know.”

HBO has only said that there are no discussions underway about that possibility, but the end of the series is still some way off. In a similar way, the BBC probably shouldn't commit to a movie version of the ultimate ongoing series, not least because it might hurt the TV version. Besides, the event Who screenings seem to scratch that itch for a cinematic experience.

Along those lines, Tim Warner (the CEO of one of the US' biggest cinema chains, Cinemark) was quoted by Variety in June 2014 saying that HBO should go the whole hog and just screen Game Of Thrones in cinemas every week. He reasoned that it was a communal experience and anybody who heard the mass fan reactions to Capaldi's eyes or Tom Baker in the Day Of The Doctor screening I attended would have to agree he had a point.

In the end, screening TV shows in cinemas could be mutually beneficial to both mediums. We have more ways to communicate with one another and fandom has never been easier to find, replacing “the water-cooler effect” with something a little more immediate, in keeping with the expectations of current audiences.

Cinema is often seen as somewhat more social and with ticket prices rising in correlation with new ways to watch movies, (wait for the DVD, or wait til it's on telly, or don't wait and just pirate it) TV screenings could really open up the potential of special broadcasts for fans who want to watch shows en masse.

HBO is already a subscription service, so who's to say that networks and cinema chains couldn't figure out a way of splitting the revenue of season tickets sold to fans who want to watch the series on the big screen every week. That model might be an acceptable alternative to the ticket premium, though it's not like either they or the cinemas will be unhappy with the premiums.

Again, it comes down to how much you agree with Homer Simpson at the beginning of The Simpsons Movie, when he points out of the fourth wall at all the suckers who paid to see something they could watch at home for free. We can't say whether it's something that will happen for whole series or just for select event episodes, but when a film version won't do, screening special TV episodes at the cinema could be the way forward.

If event cinema is getting people to come back to cinemas for a communal experience then who's to argue? The future of TV in the cinema could be just on the verge of being tapped. Now, if you'll excuse us, we've got a cinema date with this mad-eyed Scottish guy...

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