Comedian Chris Rock performs at Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre during a show that was streamed live on Netflix on Saturday.

Most nights Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre hosts thousands, but on Saturday as Chris Rock delivered his Netflix comedy special it had an audience of millions — the majority watching from their homes.

“We basically turned the Hippodrome Theatre into a TV studio. They took out over 400 seats. It literally was like a soundstage,” said Ron Legler, the president of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, home of the Hippodrome Theatre. 

There were multiple sweeping cameras and production crews counting down to showtime with the audience.

“It was kind of like being at an awards show,” he said.

“Chris Rock: Selective Outrage,” was streamed live from the Baltimore venue, marking Netflix’s first foray into live streaming. This made Rock’s show like none other the Hippodrome has ever hosted.

Netflix executives, representatives from the production company, 10th Planet Productions, and even technicians from Baltimore Gas and Electric were all on hand to make sure the special went off without a hitch.

BGE said they treated the show like a major Baltimore event akin to the Preakness or Orioles’ opening day. The company said they inspected the theater’s substation and fixed issues weeks before the show. Later, BGE employees were on site on the night of the show to ensure there were no power problems.

“The goal was to make sure there were no reliability issues within the venue prior to or during the event to ensure that the livestream was successful,” the company said in a statement.

Streaming services are now experimenting with live programming, once the sole domain of traditional broadcast TV. In addition to comedy specials, Netflix said last year it could stream competition shows and reunion specials for reality TV shows live. Amazon Prime, ESPN+ and Hulu offer live sporting events.

But the Chris Rock special in Baltimore was Netflix’s first. 

“It was a very Herculean effort to get all of those satellites powered up and get everything that needed to happen to happen. It went to 190 countries all at once. Two hundred million people were viewing it,” Legler said. “It was really a big task, but it took the whole city.”

The Mayor’s Office and the Downtown Partnership stepped up to cut through any red tape, he said. Gov. Wes Moore and Mayor Brandon Scott were in the audience.

Rock’s performance Saturday was his first comedy special since the 2022 Oscars ceremony where actor Will Smith slapped him after the comedian joked about the appearance of Smith’s wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith. Pinkett Smith has alopecia areata.

It seems Netflix’s gamble on live streaming and Baltimore paid off. The special is currently its top-performing TV show.

Legler said the comedian himself made the call to have his Netflix special in Baltimore, beating out bigger cities such as Atlanta.

“He chose Baltimore because he thought it was the most authentic place that could be,” Legler said.

The 2,300-seat Hippodrome normally hosts national tours of Broadway shows such as “The Wiz” and “Funny Girl,” not global-televised comedy specials.

So the Hippodrome’s transformation in less than a month into a place that can film an event live to millions makes Legler think they can do it again.

“We would welcome Netflix or HBO or Showtime — any of them — to come in,” he said.

“We certainly put our very best foot forward. I felt like because of how quickly the city handled the permitting problems and things that they needed to get done, they knew that we were playing ball.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with a statement from BGE.

Avatar photo

Tim Swift

Tim Swift is a local freelance writer and the former features editor for the Baltimore Sun.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *