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Inside the decision to screen Netflix’s ‘The Irishman’ on Broadway

Netflix is taking one of its films to Broadway, as it vies for Oscar consideration amid tensions with major movie theater operators.  The streaming service will be screening “The Irishman” at the Belasco Theatre for the month of November.

'The Irishman' poster at the Belasco Theatre Monday. (Photo: Caitlin Huston)

Netflix is taking one of its films to Broadway, as it vies for Oscar consideration amid tensions with major movie theater operators.

The streaming service will be screening “The Irishman” at the Belasco Theatre for the month of November. The move is intended to fulfill Academy Award requirements for the buzzed-about film, according to an analyst, but also brings in a potential new revenue stream to Broadway.

Netflix’s business model has been drawing ire from major movie chains, as it both keeps consumers from attending movies at the theater with its at-home availability and as it competes against new releases with its own line of films.

The streaming service wants films such as Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” which stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, to be eligible for the Academy Awards, and that necessitates a screening in a theater for a limited run, said Tuna Amobi, director and entertainment and media analyst at research firm CFRA.

And so, without the support of major movie chains, the platform turned to a Broadway theater, union contracts and all, which will be repurposed for the screening.

“They’re just trying to get their film business up and running,” Amobi said. “You’re likely to see them trying to come up with ways around it.”

Netflix has previously held screenings at independent movie theaters, which are more sympathetic to the cause than the larger chains. Amobi notes that they will likely spread the release of “The Irishman” across those theaters, in addition to the initial Broadway screening and the release on Netflix on Nov. 27.

The streaming service had previously filmed Broadway shows for its own platform, including “Oh, Hello” and “Springsteen on Broadway” and the upcoming adaptations of “American Son” and “The Prom.” But this is Netflix’s first move into the physical space of Broadway.

In addition to satisfying awards eligibility requirements, Netflix’s entrance on Broadway stands to bolster the landlords’ coffers and potentially provide opportunities for other Broadway theater owners in the future.

Stewart Lane, co-owner of the Palace Theatre and chief executive and co-founder of BroadwayHD, a platform for streaming Broadway shows, said he sees the booking of the film sandwiched between the now-ended run of “Network” and the upcoming run of “The Girl From the North Country” as a net positive.

“I think it’s a very practical, smart move,” Lane said. “No one wants a dark theater during the holiday season.”

A spokesperson for the Shubert Organization, owner of the Belasco Theatre, said they had no comment on the booking.

Lane said he believes more theaters owners could benefit from short-term film screenings, which are easier to mount than a new theatrical production, as a way to make up for lost revenue. But because of the current level of demand among theatrical productions for Broadway theaters, he notes that it may be hard for other film production companies to find an opening.

Producer Ken Davenport also sees this as the beginning of a trend that could bring more film studios and other forms of entertainment calling. But, he notes, that Broadway demands a certain quality and that the theater owners may require films of a certain caliber to book a theater.

Many Broadway theaters have played host to film and television events in the past. The Hayes Theater, previously known as the Little Theatre, notably served as an ABC Television studio and as the early venue for tapings of “The Merv Griffin Show.” Before it was restored back to a Broadway house, the Hudson Theatre had served as a television studio for NBC and as a movie theater for adult films.

The Belasco itself served as a radio studio for NBC and also hosted benefits in the 1990s and 2000s, when it was not in demand as a theatrical venue, according to Jennifer Ashley Tepper, a producer and historian whose book series “The Untold Stories of Broadway” focuses on Broadway theaters.

Theaters typically turned to hosting these gigs, which have also included serving as rehearsal studios, in lean years. However, as Davenport notes, the Belasco engagement is just filling in for a matter of weeks, rather than for a longer dry spell.

“I think the theater owners are being very smart landlords,” Davenport said. “They’re sealing the cracks.”

Tepper likens the screening to the increasing trend in theaters booking short-term concert engagements, such as the upcoming Harry Connick Jr. at the Nederlander Theatre and last summer’s “In Residence” series at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.

“It’s only if they start not doing shows in favor of films that it would be a problem,” Tepper said.