HONOLULU – After the sun sets on another perfect Hawaiian day, thousands of people in beach chairs and on blankets dig their toes in the sand of one of the world's most famous beaches as a 30-foot movie screen jumps to life.
Welcome to network television's latest screening room.
Sixteen years after "Magnum P.I.'s" (search) red Ferrari drove into the sunset, and after a long dry spell, Hawaii has three network TV series in production. All premiered on Waikiki Beach (search), which also has shown movies for several years.
Damon Lindelof, co-creator of ABC's "Lost," first used the Waikiki screen in March, when the network began filming the castaway drama whose ensemble cast includes Matthew Fox (search) ("Party of Five") and Dominic Monaghan ("The Lord of the Rings").
"Here we are six months later screening our pilot," Lindelof said as more than 10,000 people gathered Saturday night for a first look at "Lost" — far more than the typical draw for the free movies at the city-sponsored "Sunset on the Beach." (search)
The crowd repeated on Sunday night for the premiere of NBC's police drama "Hawaii," which makes its network debut on Wednesday. The 90-minute "Lost" pilot airs three weeks later in two parts, on Sept. 22 and Sept. 29.
The city came up with beach movies as a way to attract local residents to the Waikiki tourist district on weekends after the 2001 terrorist attacks took a toll on visitor arrivals. The shows draw between 5,000 and 7,500 people a night, according to Malcolm Tom, the city's deputy managing director.
Fox Television was the first to take advantage of the screen, the sand, the sunset and the built-in audience when it premiered its Hawaii-based hotel drama "North Shore" on the beach in June.
Soon after that, ABC and NBC got permission to show their pilots on the beach, Tom said.
Cast members of "North Shore" appeared on stage before the screening of their pilot.
Not to be outdone, ABC had its 14 cast members arrive an hour and a half before the screening to greet fans before mingling at a reception under a large banyan tree behind the screen as the sun set over the Pacific.
NBC pulled off a flashier entrance Sunday night for the "Hawaii" cast, which includes Michael Biehn (search) ("Terminator 2"), Sharif Atkins ("ER"), Ivan Sergei ("Crossing Jordan") and Eric Balfour (search) ("Six Feet Under") — actors arrived in two of the show's "Honolulu Metro Police Department" cars and the red Cadillac convertible driven on the show by Biehn's character, Detective Sean Harrison, escorted by motorcycle cops with lights flashing.
Stepping onto a sand-covered red carpet surrounded by a crowd, the actors received orchid leis before making their way down the beach, stopping to meet with fans and beachgoers still wet from the ocean.
NBC doesn't typically do "such extravagant premieres," said network spokesman Jamie French. "This is kind of a big deal because the folks of Hawaii have been so great to us."
The casual, relaxed atmosphere of a Waikiki premiere was a contrast to a typical Hollywood event, some actors noted.
"It's perfect for what the series is about, to let local people to get close," said Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who plays Capt. Terry Harada on "Hawaii." He is the only full-time Hawaii resident among the main characters on either show.
"This is not really business driven," said Fox, the lead actor on "Lost," whose character, plane crash survivor Jack, is in the opening scene of the show. "It's more a screening for Hawaii."
The city had expected large crowds, but Tom seemed amazed at the number who showed up. Crowds packed the sand not only in front — but also behind the giant screen, watching the action backwards.
"I think it's a really cool idea," Monaghan, who plays rock star Charlie on "Lost," said of the beach premiere. Monaghan's arrival drew crowds of fans of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy clamoring to get an autograph or photo with the actor, who played the hobbit "Merry" in the films.