To Understand the Movie, You’ll Have to Watch the TV Show

By  · Published on June 8th, 2015

This weekend, the boys from Entourage returned to embrace their fan base, but instead of doing it the usual way (safely at home through televisions), they told everyone to meet them in movie theaters. In their case it was for a victory lap that a full new season of the show probably wouldn’t have sustained.

Two hours of saying, “Remembering us?” might well have been the limit, but even with 8 seasons (!) on HBO, it’s not like the narrative density of the show would keep a newcomer from understanding the movie. Someone who’d never seen an episode would probably feel like the uncool kid at the party who keeps having to ask who “Adam Davies” is, but it’s not like an Inception-like state of befuddlement would wash over them.

However, Showtime is poised to launch an entertainment experiment that will test whether a rebooted property can win over a new audience that’s willing to invest in driving to movie theaters to see the big finish of a TV show.

According to The Wrap, the cable network is going to break up a new miniseries version of Stephen King’s “The Stand” into 8 small screen episodes and 1 big event movie, written and directed by Josh Boone (The Fault in Our Stars, X-Men: The New Mutants). The concept was original floated with another King property, “The Dark Tower,” which has languished in development hell for years.

It’s impossible to know how this gamble will turn out, but my gut tells me that a lot will ride on how well Showtime communicates the concept to fans upfront. Not a barn-burning insight, I know, whenever anything new comes around, there has to be a little hand holding and expectation management.

Imagine for a second becoming a big fan of the miniseries during its run only to find out that what amounts to the series finale won’t be showing on the channel you already pay extra for. The movie event needs to be something Showtime is shouting loudly, early and often – say, as the credits on each episode roll. They won’t be able to rely on a shocking cliffhanger propelling fans to theaters, especially with a property that’s been around (and popular) for nearly 40 years and already had a miniseries made from its pages.

The worst element is that The Stand done this way will effectively thank viewers for being subscribers before telling them they need to spend more money and find a babysitter if they want to read the final chapter. Sorry, Mario – your princess is in another castle. Done gracelessly, and it will feel like the TV equivalent of spam.

Still, Showtime is jumping on an opportunity that probably didn’t exist until a few years ago. Several worlds have collided to create a nice incubator for this bold idea – not least of which is the ever-widening bridge between movies and prestige television that allows actors at the highest pay scale to work in TV with zero stigma.

There’s also Game of Thrones, which was able to entice the more dedicated sparrows to watch the season four closer in IMAX to the tune of $1.5m. Granted, this happened after the episode had already aired, but The Stand will undoubtedly be the kind of GoT-style miniseries that continues to import cinematic sensibilities and scale to TV. At least, it will have to be if it wants to be any good. When (or really “if”) Boone and Showtime pull this off, The Stand should include Thank Yous to Game of Thrones and True Detective in the credits.

Showtime is going to be asking a lot of its fans, and that’s not a bad thing, but the needle to thread here is easy to envision. It almost makes me wonder if the experiment might work better in reverse: wow fans with a tense opener in theaters and ask them to stay indoors for the next two months as you send the continuation of the story to their couches. Obviously that has some downsides, too.

In fact, I can’t fully tell what the ultimate goal for Showtime is here. Do they expect that people who aren’t fans of the miniseries will want to see the final chapter of an unfamiliar tale in movie form? And if they do, that they’ll want to go back and watch the show from the beginning? As it stands, asking fans to change the pattern and medium by which they watch a story seems like it would only have numbers to lose. Casual watchers who were happy to tune in or keep it DVRed, the lazy who can’t be bothered or the confused who don’t understand why the last episode of their program never aired. You’d, presumably, have nowhere to go but down.

It stands to reason that Showtime’s only realistic goal here is to transform several million fans into a different kind of paying customer.

Ultimately I have to wonder if this isn’t a bad idea. Not because it’s different, but because it seems needlessly messy. In order to make it worthwhile, there will have to be a point to shifting the final episode of the miniseries from TVs to theaters – some value added that’s immediate and recognizable to both the filmmakers and the audience. To show something that really couldn’t be shown on TV (a field that gets narrower by the year). Otherwise it will be like stopping the music at a party, telling everyone you’re going next door, only to restart the same music in an identical living room.

Like all “innovations,” the execution will prove whether cross-platform storytelling is a gimmick or a good idea.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector [email protected] | Writing short stories at Adventitious.