The battle cry for NBC’s Community might be “Six seasons and a movie,” but when it comes to certain shows the line between television and film is already starting to blur. The BBC’s much-loved and long-lived sci-fi drama Doctor Who recently celebrated its 50th anniversary with a feature length special that received a limited theatrical release in the US.
Of course, a number of shows have already made the leap from the small screen to the big one: 2009 political comedy In the Loop was a spin-off based on BBC series The Thick of It; Joss Whedon’s sci-fi Western Firefly was cut down after just one season but lived on in Serenity; Star Trek is also a strong leader in this category with 12 films (so far) based on the show, including J.J. Abrams’ two titles in the rebooted universe.
Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ modern detective show Sherlock straddles an interesting line between television and film, with each of its six episodes so far boasting a 90-minute running time (unless you live in the US, where PBS cut eight minutes from each episode of season 2).
Since each episode of Sherlock is effectively a feature film produced on a conservative budget and production schedule, it’s perhaps no surprise that Moffat seemed disinterested when asked by The Mirror if he would ever make a Sherlock movie:
“Well we do make films, we make three every eighteen months. I don’t know, there would have to be a significant reason why you’d do it. Films, for some reason, take much longer to make so you would be reducing the amount of ‘Sherlock’ you’re getting. If there was a really good reason to say why this story needs to be told in that way, then yes. Otherwise, I don’t think there’s anything about cinema that outranks television these days, and I don’t think anyone thinks that way. After all, I can say that proudly because the ‘Doctor Who’ 50th was no. 2 in the American box office with only limited distribution.”
Moffat’s sentiments certainly fit with an opinion that’s become particularly widespread this year, as TV screens have shone with the likes of Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. Television is now at the very least as respected as film, and might even be considered to have surpassed it in some respects.
As Moffat points out, Sherlock‘s status as a TV show instead of a movie franchise hasn’t held it back from success.
“The response was huge. It sort of instantly became a sort of national institution and Benedict [Cumberbatch] went from being that bloke with the funny name – who people looked blank about when we mentioned him – he went from that to [being a] star more quickly than anything I have ever witnessed.”
The fact that Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch are both now major stars is another reason why Sherlock is perhaps best kept as a TV show rather than a film, because the actors do not have unlimited availability to the BBC. Indeed, between Cumberbatch’s commitment to Star Trek Into Darkness and both actors’ involvement in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, it has taken two years to get just three more episodes of Sherlock made. Perhaps given the success of the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special in theaters, however, we might start seeing more major TV shows get theatrical screenings as well.
Before Sherlock returns in the New Year, a prequel mini-episode called “Many Happy Returns,” about a character who believes (rightly) that Sherlock faked his death, is set for release on Christmas Day, through the BBC’s red button service and potentially some other outlets. No clues yet as to who this person might be (John, as the recent trailer demonstrated, eventually decided to accept Sherlock’s death and move on), but it could be Scotland Yard forensics expert Anderson, who was shown in a teaser to be hanging out with a group of Sherlock Holmes fans looking decidedly unkempt.
Sherlock will return January 1, 2014 on BBC and January 19, 2014 on PBS.