If you thought “Doctor Who” was terrifying on the smallscreen, wait until the show regenerates as live theater.
The stuff of fantasy? Hardly. The BBC sci-fi series steps out of the Tardis and onto the stage this fall when a U.K. tour kicks off Oct. 8 in London.
In all, 25 performances are planned, with the show wrapping in Belfast Nov. 7. Characters and sci-fi entities from the skein, including Daleks, Cybermen and Oods, are part of a production being developed by the show’s lead writer Steven Moffat.
The 11th — and latest — Doctor, British actor Matt Smith, won’t be a part of the production, but creatives promise “an epic onstage battle,” with special fx, pyrotechnics and live music from a 16-piece orchestra.
“This is everything I ever wanted since I was 11,” Moffat says. “A live show, with all the coolest ‘Doctor Who’ monsters, a proper story, and brand new screen material.”
A legit version of “Doctor Who” is only one of the recent examples of a hit U.K. TV show stepping onstage. For years, rights owners have been exploiting smallscreen successes in the less-forgiving arena of live performance.
But as the entertainment industry looks to maximize brand value at a time when more traditional forms of revenue — think spot advertising — is getting more difficult to come by, live adaptations of TV programs are becoming more commonplace.
Long-running blue-collar U.K. soap “Coronation Street,” which celebrates its 50th anniversary in December, is among shows being re-created for the stage. The ITV sudser’s entire history will be crammed into a two-hour drama, written by Jonathan Harvey, and performed at the Lowry theater in Salford, England.
“Broadcasters are looking for ways of extending brands beyond the TV and diversifying revenues in what is a difficult market place,” says Emma Derrick, commercial development controller at U.K. terrestrial web Five.
Compared with BBC Worldwide, which hopes to double the size of its international live events business over the next three years, Five is small fry.
Nonetheless, in tandem with Upper Street Events, the broadcaster has successfully turned TV skein “The Gadget Show” into a lucrative live U.K. event, with sales of 66,000 tickets, and shows sold out six weeks in advance.
Derrick declines to divulge how much coin flows back to Five from the four-day live event based on “The Gadget Show,” but she is quick to point out how important such shows are to maintaining audience interest in the program on which it’s based.
“It is a great brand-building exercise,” Derrick says.
So great, in fact, that paybox Sky 1, BSkyB’s flagship entertainment network, is reportedly poised to turn four of its TV shows into live performances.
A Sky spokesman declined to comment on reports in local media that “A League of Their Own,” “Fat Families,” “Got to Dance” and “Pineapple Dance Studios” are all being considered as potential live shows in Blighty.
The commercially savvy BSkyB is certain to have looked at the success BBC Worldwide has achieved in this sphere.
“Sky wants to build the reputation of its brands and make some extra money for each show, since there’s good profit in live shows,” a source says.
The real cash emerges when a show has international presence.
This is where BBC Worldwide has made a big impact, thanks to global franchises like “Dancing With the Stars,” “Walking With Dinosaurs” and “Top Gear,” which appeals to car buffs. Tours based on “Dancing With the Stars” and especially “Walking With Dinosaurs,” which plays Madison Square Garden in July, are top performers in the U.S.
Family-friendly “Walking With Dinosaurs,” has been touring for 3 1/2 years,” says Worldwide’s Stanley, who used to run tours for the likes of Paul McCartney and Elton John before joining the BBC eight years ago.
Stanley says that last year, “Dinosaurs” was the No. 4 grossing road show in the U.S. “One of the few acts to do better than ‘Dinosaurs’ was U2,” Stanley says.
According to concert trade publication Pollstar, in 2010, ticket sales for “Walking With Dinosaurs” ranked No. 12, and it grossed $46.2 million in the U.S.
So can “Doctor Who,” the stage show, echo this kind of success? Or will live theater turn out to be one bow too many for the BBC family favorite?
Given the Time Traveler’s successful reinvention as a TV property, thanks to British screenwriter Russell T. Davies and now Moffat, the omens are good. And if “Doctor Who” can continue to thrill TV audiences across the Atlantic, a U.S. live tour may not be far off — though timing is a key component to success.
“With live shows based on TV properties, it’s important not to go too early in the life-cycle of the brand,” says Craig Stanley, head of live entertainment at BBC Worldwide, the show’s producers. “Live shows tend to come once the show has matured and consolidated its fanbase. For ‘Doctor Who,’ it is still early in the U.S. We have a range of opportunities there, and live is one of them.”
Stanley cautions that for live adaptations of hit TV brands, the bar must be set high.
“I have a very simple guideline for live shows,” he says. “They must always exceed expectations. You have to add something and enhance the brand. It is no good just going out and putting on a simple show. The people who come and see our shows have seen Madonna and Lady Gaga, so they are expecting very high production levels.”