With the two-hour series finale of the epic, bar-raising reboot of Battlestar Galactica airing this Friday, what could be better than checking it out in high definition on the silver screen, surrounded by a dedicated audience of T.O.’s geek elite? Or better yet, doing so while contributing a little something to a good cause, fully secure in your anything-but-Cylon humanity?
Until yesterday, you had that option. Those with an ear to the city’s sci-fi rumblings (or a Facebook account) probably knew about the Fox Theatre’s March 20 presentation of the BSG finale. For seven dollars, you got a ticket to a showing that roundly shamed your friend’s gigantic 42 inch widescreen, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Daily Bread Food Bank. Of course, Torontoist would have been only too tickled to let you know about the screening earlier, except for one thing: within days of the press release landing in our inbox, NBC Universal, Battlestar Galactica‘s heavy-handed steward, promptly changed its mind.
The event suffered a few false starts. After a failed pitch to SPACE, organizers aimed higher and went straight to the head of TV Operations and Sales at NBC Universal. “[She] said that it’d be the same as a bar running it,” explains Andy Willick, co-owner of the Fox. “She said something to the effect of ‘we couldn’t stop you if we wanted to; I don’t know about it.’ They basically agreed to turn their heads and ignore it.” With a green light, ticket sales took off. “The event definitely would have sold out,” Willick says. “It would have been our first since taking over in September 2007.”
Throughout the first three seasons of Battlestar Galactica, the idea of a superior force getting the jump on a haggard, rag-tag fleet half its size was a story-driving plot point—especially when that superior force shows up at the last possible second. What happened next reads like some experiment in real world parallels that ended up on Ronald Moore‘s cutting room floor.
“We were contacted by the same woman who approved it,” Willick continues. “She said that she had made a mistake, that she should have said no right off the bat, and [we] were told to ‘put a bullet in it.’” Willick took the issue to the official’s boss, the Senior Executive for TV at NBC Universal. When told again to axe the screening, Willick countered that there were many such screenings happening across North America, some of which had been a regular occurrence for the entire fourth season of the series. In response, NBC suggested submitting a proposal to be vetted by the network’s legal department in Los Angeles. “We decided to donate the total door proceeds in the hopes that this would satiate them,” says Willick. “On the phone they said something like, ‘this isn’t about being nice.’”
And indeed it wasn’t. Driving a final nail through the event’s casket, NBC’s mighty legal department advised the following: “While NBC Universal is supportive of your efforts to help a worthy cause, we regret to inform you that we will not authorize the public exhibition of the Battlestar Galactica finale as described below. Please be advised that any public exhibition of the show in this manner would be in violation of applicable copyright law.”
Photo of tickets to this Friday’s screening party courtesy of Nicole Winchester.
Yet even with such an officious pronouncement, Willick remained committed to a viable work-around—but to no avail. “I called a copyright lawyer,” he says. “According to him, there was no way to make the event legal—i.e., calling it a ‘private event,’ etc.—and any public screening in a commercial space is illegal.” After navigating NBC’s legal morass, said lawyer advised that “if we didn’t cancel it, they would pursue legal action and would do so with anyone violating the copyright law.”
While the whole thing seems like an open-and-shut case of copyright law gone insane, the issue remains that a disorganized spokesperson for NBC had given the Fox Theatre a tacit green light, setting in motion an inexorable chain of events.
Nicole Winchester, the organizer who had done the lion’s share of the event’s legwork, was considerably less than reserved in her disappointment. “As the person who put a lot of hard work and effort into the screening,” she writes, “I am pretty much devastated. I wish something could have been worked out.”
At press time, NBC Universal was unavailable for comment.
“We have received no offer of financial compensation, despite the fact that this was their mistake,” Willick continues. “If we had received a ‘no’ to start, we would have simply played an Oscar film, which would have grossed pretty well. Instead, we will have a bunch of disappointed BSG fans, no money for Daily Bread Food Bank, and an empty screening of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
If you were among the loyal BSG fans who had purchased tickets to the stricken screening, refunds will be available at the point of sale starting this Friday, March 20.