Why ABC's Deal to Bring Marvel's 'The Inhumans' to Imax Is a "Quadruple Win"

Marvel's The Inhumans - Publicity - H 2016
Jim Cheung/Marvel

With networks seeking to cut through the clutter of a television landscape projected to soon hit 500 original series, ABC has found a unique strategy: Go big. Really big.

On Nov. 14, the Disney-owned network said its straight-to-series order for Marvel drama The Inhumans will include a debut in more than 1,000 Imax theaters in 74 countries. The first two of the eight-episode series — about a race of superhuman heroes (among the more popular characters in the Marvel universe) — will run for two weeks starting Labor Day 2017 before airing as part of ABC's fall lineup. 

The deal marks the first time a TV series will have its premiere on the big screen. And it gives ABC a way to "event-ize" Inhumans in the crowded fall TV space, where launching a show is a multimillion-dollar investment. "We think this is a quadruple win — a win for Imax, a win for Marvel, a win for ABC Studios and a win for ABC to launch a show in an innovative way and get attention," Disney-ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood tells THR. The Imax pact is the first of what Sherwood hopes will be several innovative ways to launch programming.

As part of the agreement, the first two episodes will be shot entirely with Imax cameras, with subsequent action scenes — some of which will be set on the moon — also filmed using the technology. Sources say Imax is paying for the first two episodes (ABC won't reveal the budget; the show hasn't begun casting), offsetting the hefty costs associated with the pilot and helping to make the deal more attractive to producers ABC Studios and Marvel Television. ABC will then take the Imax episodes and expand them with additional content for broadcast. ABC, Imax and Marvel will each mount tailored marketing campaigns for Inhumans, what analysts see as a can't-miss cross-platform push.

Imax, which approached Marvel with the idea, is eyeing additional TV releases after a weeklong Game of Thrones stunt promoting the season-five trailer grossed $2 million in 2015. CEO Richard Gelfond sees Inhumans as an opportunity to diversify during the late-summer period typically devoid of film hits, with the ABC series airing between Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok. "We get to break out of our distribution niche and participate in revenue from theatrical and TV releases," he says.

Analysts regard the deal as potentially game-changing. "It looks like an interesting new way of breaking through clutter, various media options and platforms that people have," says Henry Schafer, executive vp at brand specialist Q Scores. "This is an innovative way of doing that."

ABC also hopes that Inhumans — which is not a spinoff of the network's Agents of SHIELD and does not replace the planned feature film — will have a halo effect on the veteran Marvel drama as well. The network hopes fanboys flock to see Inhumans in theaters and follow the show to the network, bringing in new viewers who may not already be watching SHIELD (provided the latter returns for a fifth season next fall.)

A version of this story first appeared in the Dec. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.