As audiences have become more media-savvy over the years, so fooling them has become more difficult. It’s difficult to imagine 2018 audiences falling for Orson Welles' invading Martians or the subprime special effects of the BBC’s 1992 Ghostwatch. But over the weekend, BBC 2 dark comedy Inside No. 9 pulled off an event that had its audience part baffled, part thrilled, and mostly appreciative of the skill and planning that went into the event.
Well, not all of them to be honest. The strange events that started bedevilling the show and climaxed in gruesome horror at the end of its 30 minutes were all kicked off by faked sound problems after around 5 minutes and approximately a fifth of its audience turned off as a result. But those that stayed got treated to a bit of a post-modern tour de force as the tale became one of a haunted TV studio.
What really made it work was the way it stretched outside the confines of the television. The actors tweeted on their accounts in realtime asking if they were still on-air (they were), fake stories about the studio location were planted in the national press days before the event, an old episode was briefly rerun with a ghost comped into the background, Wikipedia entries were edited… All this was completely unheralded too. Yes, it was trailed as a live show and much fuss was made about that in advance. But a live show that was about to be possessed by demons? Not so much as a peep…
Much has been written in the industry about the need for multiplatform storytelling to engage audiences and chase them across their multiplicity of screens while they watch something, but it’s rare to see it genuinely pulled off, and in a live context as well.
“You’re thinking of Black Mirror, Stephanie,” said one of the cast in many of the shows’ self-referential moments. “This is Inside No. 9, it’s more dark comedy with twists.”
Those with access to the BBC iPlayer can watch it here. Everyone else, even though watching it after the event doesn’t have the same impact, it’s still worth half an hour of your time if you can ferret it out.