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When viewing entertainment, size matters

NICE AS IT WOULD BE to enjoy a steady diet of jumbo shrimp, lean roast beef and assorted pastries, I decline all invitations to premiere screenings for new TV programs. That’s because as much as I would love to avail myself of HBO’s and Showtime’s benevolence, I feel compelled to watch TV the way average viewers do — at home, next to the dog, usually with my shoes off. (Let’s terminate the wardrobe discussion there, out of deference to those who have yet to eat lunch.)

The wisdom of this approach was reinforced last week, at a Museum of Television & Radio tribute to HBO’s “Deadwood.” While I had already seen the episode (prone as I am to attacking the show’s advance tapes the way a junkie goes after a crack pipe), I was struck by how differently the hour played in front of an appreciative crowd — laughs that Powers Boothe and William Sanderson generated, for example, didn’t possess the same oomph for an audience of one noshing on leftovers.

So here’s the point: Not to be a killjoy, but for the purposes of awards consideration, shouldn’t people view movies in theaters and television programs on TV?

All right, I realize that’s a painful notion. Gasps of horror doubtless burst forth from caterers and shrimp fisheries and members of the Motion Picture Academy, who love lording their screeners over the world, even at the risk of winding up as a Post Office mugshot.

IT’S ABSURD, though, to argue that presentation doesn’t influence the way someone processes entertainment consumption, whether it’s “The Incredibles” on the bigscreen or “Fat Actress” on the couch, knowing a freezer full of chicken pot pies is within easy reach.

Indeed, watching a TV show at home (as redundant as that sounds), it’s often telling when the “something else” temptation starts kicking in, a seven-minute itch that causes the viewer to start looking around for something else to do. If I’m halfway through a pilot and suddenly overcome by an urge to pay the DWP bill or balance my checkbook, that’s not a good sign.

Admittedly, there’s a better argument to be made for sampling movies at home, since a significant share of the audience sees films for the first time on DVD. Even so, there’s no question certain genres — action, horror, comedy — can benefit from communal viewing, which is why studios pack media screenings with radio station giveaways, such as the teenage girls who jabbered throughout “Mr. 3000.”

Justifying public showings of television, by contrast, is a shakier case to make. Lavish premieres woo Emmy voters, generate publicity and allow talent to bask in a theatrical experience — particularly those who fear they are slumming by doing television. (My proposed solution to this problem has always been to simply drive them past Aaron Spelling’s house.)

AS IT IS, I worry that the public is losing its appreciation of being a captive audience and becoming lost in a movie without the distractions of home — a mindset, by the way, that both technology (don’t answer that cell phone!) and some exhibitors are tacitly encouraging.

Consider Loews Cineplex Entertainment’s “Reel Moms” promotion, which invites moms (and, so as not to discriminate, “dads and caregivers”) to bring babies to the movies for free. That’s right: Exhausted moms and screaming tykes, complete with “dimmed lights (not extinguished lights) and reduced sound levels so you can hear your infant’s every sound during the presentation.”

Although I bow to no one in my admiration for those raising our next generation of “American Idol” contestants, it’s hard to imagine anyone who likes movies wanting to watch one in a venue filled with crying tots, even if her kid is among them. Besides, there are far too many people unclear on the children-and-movies concept already, as demonstrated by the dimwits who brought four kids under 8 to a public showing I attended of “The Passion of the Christ.”

Obviously, there’s a social and networking aspect to all this, and I’m all for boozing and schmoozing, preferably in that order. There’s also been a relatively recent blurring of the demarcation between films and TV, both on and off screen.

Yet when it gets down to how and where to evaluate a project’s merits, there’s no way around the fact that size matters.

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