When TV Conquers Comic-Con

You know what happens when TV conquers Comic-Con? The lines for Ballroom 20 get really long. The biggest venue at the San Diego Convention Center is Hall H, which seats about 6,500 people and hosts most of the movie panels. The second biggest venue is Ballroom 20, which seats 4,250 people and hosts most of the TV panels. Comic-Con has kind of a reputation these days for insanely long lines but I think this year must have been some kind of record.

My first foray into the Ballroom 20 line was on Thursday afternoon. I'd been trying to focus on smaller panels because they're easier to get into, but there wasn't anything else I wanted to see so I figured if I'm going to sit down somewhere and chill, it might as well be in line. So I ventured out, following the line along the inside of the building for about 1000 feet, then outside, past a line of 12 small tents, then past a larger tent, down some stairs, past another tent, down some more stairs, et cetera, ad absurdum. Along the way, you pass signs marking 500 people, 1,500 people, 2,500 people. That's the last marker and it's probably more than halfway to Ballroom 20 from where I get in line early Thursday afternoon.

My hope was to get into the room for a 4 o'clock panel, about 3 hours away. The line moves forward, at times glacially, and at other times comically quickly so that we're almost jogging through hundreds of feet of forced zig-zags. But the quick movements are welcome, even if they only arrive at our end of the line a good 15 minutes after the front of the line moves. My line neighbors and I stay occupied by speculating about which panels will clear out how many people (Comic-Con does not clear its rooms between panels and people can stay put all day, if they want). Much of the line if hoping to see the Game of Thrones panel. It's sad to see people in line behind me who have come dressed as the characters and who have no hope of getting into the room for the panel. There are probably 5,000 people in line for Game of Thrones. At the same time, rumors float through the line that you can walk into Hall H without waiting.

Not surprisingly, the most popular topic of conversation is how to "fix" Comic-Con. Should they clear the rooms between panels? Should people be able to line up for specific panels? Mostly people agree that TV should be in Hall H. (Which it was on Sunday, so I suppose we're making progress.)

This seems even more obvious the next morning. I arrive at about 8:30 AM in hopes of getting into a 3 o'clock panel. The line is longer than the afternoon before. It stretches not just to the harbor front behind the Convention Center, but alongside its length, then all the way around an adjacent park. It's more than an hour before doors to Ballroom 20 even open for the day. That morning's panels include Torchwood, The Walking Dead, and The Big-Bang Theory. As the morning passes and the line creeps forward, rumors about Hall H once again start to circulate; it's not even full, while the Ballroom 20 line is thousands of people deep. Luckily, I make it into the room for the Eureka panel at 3 o'clock and 6 hours of waiting paid off for the day.

The moral of this story isn't that lines suck (they're actually kind of a fun way to meet new people and nerd out). It's that TV is taking over Comic-Con, and that's actually a very good thing for everyone involved.

One of the key differences between the TV and the film business is that fans tend to have more of an impact for TV shows. That's not to say that film fans don't matter or that they don't influence the success of a film, but it's happened more than once that a film was a hit at Comic-Con and a flop at the box office. The number of people that need to go see a movie on its opening weekend in order to make it successful far outnumbers the reach of the Comic-Con crowd. This year, many high profile film projects didn't even make presentations at Comic-Con.

TV, on the other hand, relies less on one-shot success or failure. Shows can build an audience over time and a place like Comic-Con can become ground zero for building buzz and solidifying a fan base. More importantly, Comic-Con is a place where that fan base can grow year after year.

In one of the most touching moments of this year's convention, Chuck's Zachary Levi closed out the show's last-ever panel by recounting how Comic-Con had embraced Chuck in its first year, how the fans had kept the show alive year after year, and how much it meant to everyone involved to be able to say a proper goodbye. This kind of interaction is what makes all the lines worth it for many of the people who come back to Comic-Con every year. While the panels in Hall H feel more like an impersonal performance at times, the TV panels can seem like a real exchange of appreciation and excitement. They're a place where fans are acknowledged, not just as people who'll buy stuff, but people who pour their hearts and souls and time and effort into these stories.