March 9, 2014

Back to the big screen

Cinema airs TV shows as alternative entertainment

by Sarah Einselen Pharos-Tribune

---- — For years, video and audio systems makers have been pushing movie buffs to bring the theater home. One local cinema manager says it’s now time for the movie theaters to bring TV to the big screen.

“You have a stove in your kitchen where you can cook your own meals,” Richard Dieffenbach pointed out. “Why would people go out to a restaurant?”

Drawing on that analogy, he says watching TV in a movie theater is all about the experience.

Dieffenbach was brought on to manage Logansport’s new theater last year. Barely 4 months old now, Mary Max Cinemas Logansport 5 began showing episodes of AMC network’s “The Walking Dead” when the show’s new season launched in February.

Devotees of the show who’ve visited the theater for its weekly airings say they’ve been longtime fans, but were intrigued by the idea of watching it on a big screen.

And it’s certainly big — at about 40 feet wide, it’s wider than some houses.

“I don’t know of any home that can give you a 40-foot-wide picture,” Deiffenbach said. A longtime cinema manager, he came to Logansport soon after construction on the theater got under way.

The big screen is just what drew some “Walking Dead” fans to the theater last week.

“It’s my daughter’s birthday,” explained Logansport resident, Brenda Bowman, one of the first to arrive last Sunday night. “We’ve been wanting to come see it on the big screen. ... A lady at work told me about it.”

She and her family watch “The Walking Dead” together weekly, she said. But, as family member Jack Delp noted, they wanted to get “the movie experience,” too.

Dieffenbach says airing the TV show on the big screen is just part of a package of what he terms “alternative content” meant to complement movies the cinema is contractually obligated to show.

“We’re a movie theater. The studios expect us to show movies during our normal operating hours,” Dieffenbach said. “We can’t break a contract with the studios and take off something they’d normally play.”

The cinema is legally bound to show a certain number of movies each week, and during peak hours — Friday or Saturday night, for example — those movies take precedence. But other times, Dieffenbach is free to show something else.

“Let’s face it, there are times when the quality of movies is not that great,” he commented. And those times are ideal for the “alternative content” he’s envisioned.

In addition to showing episodes of “The Walking Dead” — which the theater doesn’t charge for — Dieffenbach plans to host some live entertainment the week that local schools take off for spring break. When the NCAA’s Final Four championship games start next month, he’s planning to throw them up on the big screen, and is considering showing NFL games come fall.

Few area theaters show anything other than movies produced by the big-name studios. One Lafayette theater has been showing regular satellite broadcasts of opera performances at the Metropolitan Opera House. That theater also put the Academy Awards broadcast on one of its screens two years ago, and has since shown the broadcast every year.

Last year’s turnout of 58 to watch the Oscars at Lafayette Eastside 9 theater impressed managers there.

“We weren’t really expecting that much so we were very surprised when we got our ticket totals,” shift manager Jenna Cox said. The cinema had added a few touches — a live broadcast with the local radio station, red carpet from the theater entrance to the auditorium, door prizes, even photos snapped by theater staff — to try to set it apart from an Oscars night at home.

“It’s more of the experience,” Cox said.

Key to Logansport’s events is the theater’s digital projection system, which makes it compatible with high-definition TV broadcasts in a way old film-based projection wasn’t. The equipment “makes it very easy to do pretty much anything you want,” Dieffenbach said.

But film technology didn’t stop him before. As far back as 22 years ago, he recalls televising several sports events at a theater he managed in south Georgia. And a theater in French Lick he started about seven years ago hosted Xbox tournaments on two screens — something he’s considering bringing to Logansport later this year.

“The Walking Dead” might be the only TV show that makes it to Logansport’s big screens for a while, though.

“I don’t know as there are any other TV shows at the moment that, A, fall within the hours that we can do this, and B, have a huge following,” Dieffenbach explained.

But he’s not ruling it out entirely.

“If something comes along that strikes the public’s fancy ... we’ll look into doing that,” he said.

Sarah Einselen is news editor at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at or 574-732-5151. Twitter: @PharosSME