Conan, 'Glee' look for feature magic

From George Clooney to Jennifer Aniston and Will Smith, myriad TV thesps have made the transition to the bigscreen. But how do TV personalities fare when they take their actual acts to the multiplex? A trio of 2011 films will offer some indication.

Abramorama Entertainment recently released the documentary “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop.” That film, which chronicles the comedian’s 32-city “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour,” comes on the heels of the April bow of another TV-themed doc, “Exporting Raymond.” The Samuel Goldwyn pic, which recounts “Everybody Loves Raymond” producer Phil Rosenthal’s bid to re-create the hit series for Russian auds, proved to be a niche bet, playing in only 13 theaters during its widest release and taking in less than $88,000 at the box office.

But 20th Century Fox has high hopes for yet another doc based on a popular TV property. “Glee Live! 3-D!” offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse at a sold-out concert at New Jersey’s Izod Center and is being touted as the next “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour,” thanks to the Fox series’ loyal fanbase of Gleeks. The pic, which bows a two-week limited engagement on Aug. 12, is poised to take a run at the $71 million worldwide haul of “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus.”

“Part of what motivated us to do this movie in the first place is there was such a clamoring among ‘Glee’ fans who said, ‘Why didn’t you bring this tour to my city?’ ” says Twentieth Century Fox Television chairman Gary Newman, who adds that the doc was always envisioned as a 3D pic to give auds an immersive experience. “They felt left out because we only went to four cities during our first tour. This movie will give fans — not just in the U.S. but around the world — the chance to experience the ‘Glee’ concert in a visceral way.”

But until the breakout success of “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus,” auds largely ignored movies revolving around TV personalities who essentially play themselves rather than fictitious characters. Fox’s 2003 release “From Justin to Kelly,” which featured original “American Idol” finalists Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini, brought in under $5 million at the box office. Also in 2003, New Line’s “The Real Cancun,” which was toplined by a cast of real-life spring breakers better suited for a smallscreen vehicle, found even less traction with moviegoers, nabbing just $3.7 million at the box office. Even the post-“Hannah Montana” concert pic “Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience” took in far less than the Cyrus pic with its $23.2 million worldwide haul.

So, why do some TV personalities translate to bigscreen better than others? It often comes down to a film’s targeted demo and the distributor’s expectations.

In the case of “Exporting Raymond,” the filmmakers never aimed to reach the millions of fans of the long-running CBS comedy. Instead, the low-budget pic was released like a typical documentary, with limited box office potential. Ditto for “Conan Can’t Stop,” which was intended to capture a moment in time for the latenight funnyman following his much-ballyhooed departure from hosting NBC’s “Tonight Show” rather than extending the O’Brien brand; in three weeks, it has taken in about $225,000.

“Glee Live! 3D!,” on the other hand, is meant to entice a broad audience.

“This really is about brand extension,” adds Newman of the Ryan Murphy-created series, which has also spawned platinum-selling soundtracks and a new reality show on Oxygen. ” ‘Glee’ is pretty unique, though. It isn’t that it can’t be done by anyone else. What is special about the series is it works on a number of levels for this medium. It enjoys a strong following from teens and young adults, which is a ripe demo for a concert movie. And some of the themes that run through the series — like inclusion — lend themselves to what teens are feeling. Some of the values and themes will be seen in the concert. Plus, the music is so recognizable.”

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