The Glorious Experience of Watching TV in a Movie Theater

By  · Published on June 9th, 2015

I had never seen a TV show on a movie screen before. At least, not until two weeks ago. That’s when I attended a Mad Men event, a post-finale talk with Matthew Weiner and a few other directors (which I also wrote about here). About halfway through, Weiner cued up the last seven-ish minutes of the very last Mad Men, starting from Don’s silent weepy therapy session (not seen below) and ending on that final transcendental lightbulb moment. On a great big enormous movie screen.

Have you ever watched TV on something that size? It’s like when you stay inside for days at a time (other people do this, right?), then step outside and your entire field of vision stretches into a glorious panorama. My god, trees! Sky! The detail! Same deal. And afterwards, watching Mad Men on a plain ol’ TV (or worse, YouTube clips on a laptop screen) looks like iPhone video in comparison.

A larger screen creates a finer image: not a complicated concept. But I think we’ve gotten so used to watching television on our televisions that we’re shouldering all the extra burdens of TV without ever realizing they’re there. Watch Mad Men in a full-on movie theater, and you’re watching it sans:

(And even if you’ve evaded a few – the first two, most likely – with DVDs or commercial-free pay cable, those last four will haunt anyone watching their shows at home).

Just think how much better those SC&P interiors (or a horde of White Walkers, or even southern Kevin Spacey eye-fucking the camera) would appear. And with the added benefit of watching amongst a crowd of people all as excited about TV as you are. The clip below screened at the Mad Men event, too. Huge laughs.

It’s tough to pin down a precise ‘when’ for when prestige television started requiring the full cinematic treatment. I’d argue that TV’s need for a boost (not that I even knew TV needed a boost until two weeks ago) began once we hit our current Golden Age of Television, circa 1999. Tony Soprano’s talking fish fever dreams? Blown up onto the big screen? They’d be glorious. Even if a handful of folks could probably argue that TV has always required the larger format (and a contrary handful could argue that it still doesn’t). Besides, today’s small screen stuff- the kind that regularly courts A-list Hollywood talent (in front of and behind the camera) and is mostly adapted from movies anyway– deserves to be shown at the local multiplex on principle alone.

But while I can bleat on about TV deserving a 30-foot screen forever, it doesn’t change the very unpleasant fact at the heart of the matter (and the reason why I could go several decades without a glimpse of movie-sized television): the people with movie theaters just don’t feel like running TV shows.

An outlier will sneak in there every so often. The Alamo Drafthouse has a regular series called “TV at the Alamo” that’s still ongoing (although somewhat sporadically, it looks like – I can find mentions of The Flash and Arrow for 2015, at least). Game of Thrones ran the last two hours of season four in IMAX. And every so often, a feature-length Doctor Who will make it into theaters. And there’s absolutely a market for this stuff. Game of Thrones netted an easy $1.5M, 2013’s The Day of the Doctor hit as high as $10.2M. That Thrones event even had Deadline proclaiming TV at the movies as “TV’s Next Great Revolution.” Is that the case? I’m really hoping it is, because I could quit this article right here, prop my feet up and wait until the next season of True Detective is readily Fandango-able.

But the revolution (if it’s coming at all) is still a ways away, given how most of the entities involved fight format changes like a wooly mammoth heaving itself from a tar pit. “TV at the Alamo” used to run AMC showsuntil the Alamo Drafthouse was given a cease-and-desist order from AMC in 2013. And the major theater chains always link hands to keep any major Netflix release from gaining theatrical ground- a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel barred last September, and the Cary Fukunaga/Idris Elba joint Beasts of No Nation this March.

If you find yourself with the opportunity to watch TV in a great, dark room with a mass of other people, take that opportunity. I’m telling you, it’ll feel like you’ve been watching TV on an iPhone your whole life. And once you do, you’ll have no other options but to sit, and wait, and hope that eventually television and movies can intersect on a regular basis (you could also flock to TV-at-the-movies events wherever they creep up, but people seem to be doing that anyway).

Unless you live near an Alamo Drafthouse running “TV at the Alamo” on a regular basis. In which case I’m extremely jealous.