HBO’s ‘The Third Day’ to Involve Immersive Live Audience, But Is This Too Risky?

Published on February 17, 2020

A new HBO show is going to break some new ground for the cable network. HBO and Sky Drama’s upcoming series, The Third Day, will feature a live event involving fans. According to HBO, it’s the “world’s first immersive TV drama with an innovative live event staged as part of the series.”

What is ‘The Third Day’

The six-episode series from creators Dennis Kelly and Felix Barrett features two standalone stories that cross paths. One story, which spans three episodes, stars Jude Law as Sam. Sam finds himself on a mysterious island near the British coast, where he meets islanders with sacred traditions that must be protected.

It’s the other three-episode story that’ll involve the live event. Naomie Harris (Moonlight) stars in the other three episodes as a woman who also finds herself on the island. Harris’ character seeks answers but ultimately finds herself in a battle. Since the show has yet to air, the story is very vague at this point. 

The Live Component 

During one of Naomie Harris’ episodes, viewers can become a part of the show. Created by Punchdrunk and directed by Felix Barrett, it’s an ambitious theater event that’ll let audiences be in the story. Space in the theater is limited, of course, but fans will be able to watch the event unfold live on the series.

What exactly fans will be doing during the live broadcast a part of the fictional TV show is unknown, but still, it’s quite a daring decision to make for an HBO drama. 

Why Go Live?

It’s a strange decision and a bit of a gamble for a drama. Then again, we’ve yet to see any of the show, so who knows, it may play brilliantly. According to co-creator, Felix Barrett, mixing fictional drama and live storytelling has always been a dream of his: 

To tell a story that spans TV and live action has been a long held ambition of mine. The Third Day will be both a TV show and a world you can enter, giving viewers the chance to live and breathe the narrative.

It’s dicey because the live component adds more variables to a production. What if an audience member goes nuts or behaves inappropriately on-camera? It can happen. For example, plays in New York City have shown characters in real-time on the streets, and sometimes, passerbyers aren’t always respectful. Maybe that unpredictability will work in the HBO show’s favor, though.

Barrett’s co-writer and co-creator, Dennis Kelly, added: 

I wanted to make a series that was unsettling and disturbing but that also spoke to fears that ran deeper than horror. The themes of the Third Day have long been obsessions of mine – it is about loss and hope and how both of those things can distort the mind in surprising and brutal ways.

Whenever characters find themselves on a mysterious island, it usually doesn’t lead to good things. The Third Day is described as a drama, but it sounds more like a horror show. Maybe it’s both. Whatever it is, it all sounds very ambitious. Considering the cast and talent involved, the live-component doesn’t sound like a gimmick but very integral to the story. If it’s no more than a gimmick, what a disappointment that’ll be.

Lost in London 

Years ago, of all people, actor Woody Harrelson tried a similar experiment. He shot and streamed his feature directorial debut, Lost in London, live in theaters across the United States. There were a few hiccups here and there, but for the most part, it worked exceptionally well. There was a unique spontaneity to it. The story was based on one of the craziest nights of Harrelson’s life in London, and the unpredictability and surrealness of it fit the live approach.

It’s such a risky approach, though, understandably don’t see many other filmmakers or showmakers try to tell a story that way. It’s complicated for a variety of reasons, but kudos to the makers of The Third Day for taking a bold swing. 

Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

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