Monday, February 08, 2010

Jesus! Now I have to compete with Julienne Moore too?

Last week I talked about how hard it is to land a pilot if you’re starting from the bottom (and again, best of luck to you hearty souls). Today I want to focus on the other extreme – those actors who view pilots as a come-down. In other words, movie stars, or to be more precise -- former movie stars.

Networks are completely enamored by movie stars. On the food chain of entertainment it goes like this: Movies, Television, Street Performing, Radio. Movies look down at television. Television looks up at movies with awe. Forget that more money is made in television; the movie parties are cooler, the vacation spots more European, and no one blames you for SO YOU WANT TO BE IN A JAPANESE GAME SHOW.

But for movie stars, television is an admission that you’re no longer hot. Poor Candace Bergen, she had to do a series. Meanwhile, Candace Bergen got crazy rich, was seen and loved by millions of people weekly, and got to perform better material than what was out there for her in features. It’s a dirty little secret but in success, television is the best! Never do you have to spend ten grueling months on location making SAHARA.

My partner and I used to have a saying when we were toiling in TV: “They’ll all come to us eventually.” Whoopi, Faye Dunaway, Alec Baldwin, Christian Slater, Charlie Sheen, James Woods, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee, Elizabeth Perkins, Kiefer Sutherland, Don Sutherland, Glenn Close, the Little Mermaid – the list is endless. Then there’s the roll call of former TV stars who left the little box for movies and then returned. David Caruso, everyone from FRIENDS but Jennifer, Mary Tyler Moore, Chevy and every third SNL alum.

I understand the attraction from the networks’ perspective. Movie stars (even those now relegated to Jonas Brothers movies) bring recognition, a ready-made fan base, and many are truly great actors. They achieved their big screen success for a reason.

And you always want the girl who says “no”.

We TV producers would receive confidential lists every year of the (former) movie stars who might be ready to surrender to riches and greater fame than they’ve ever had. Next to their names would be comments. “Still a year away”, “Will consider if show is built around her,” “Must have a series commitment”, “Must have firm offer”, “Needs January off to ski”. My favorite was a C-list actress at best – this woman never starred in a movie in her heyday, who said she “Would meet with A-list writers ONLY.” Two years later she was reading for parts.

But every year a new crop of movie stars succumbs. And we’re delighted to have them (unless they’re monsters but that’s another story). This year we welcome Julianne Moore, Laura Linney, and Matthew Broderick. And we welcome back Thomas Hayden Church. Their names attached to projects automatically give them a big leg up. And that’s fine if you – working actor – happen to get cast in one of their pilots. It’s not so fine if you’re in the pilot competing against Matthew Broderick’s.

But here’s an interesting dynamic that I’ve observed. Let’s say you’re a (former) movie star. The networks will romance you like crazy. They’ll wine and dine you, invite you to fly on the company jet, give you front row tickets to the Super Bowl or World Series or (only if you’ve won an Oscar) Lakers tickets. They’ll treat you like royalty – y’know, the way you used to be treated. They’ll fawn all over you during the making of the pilot. You’ll get muffin baskets just for scratching your ass. You’ll be saying, why didn’t I do this before I spent the last three years making AMERICAN PIE 6, 7, and 8?

But once the pilot is made and in the can, all bets are off. If they like it, great. You’re on the air. More muffins. But if they don’t, suddenly your (former) movie star power disappears. The project and you are quickly discarded. You’re saying, “Hey, wait a minute. You said I would be the face of the network. You said you would build your whole fall campaign around me. There’d be a billboard in Times Square. I could host the Rose Parade. I could sing a duet with Garth Brooks at the launch party. And now you’re saying I have to be out of the hotel by noon and pay for my own flight home?”

Yep.

But fear not because there are four networks, four company jets, and numerous cable outlets. Sooner or later you will get on television. Hopefully sooner because Kate Hudson, Jack Black, the Rock, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sean William Scott, Vin Diesel, Ashley Judd, Greg Kinnear, Hillary Duff, Anna Paquin, Aaron Eckhart, Nicole Kidman, Mike Myers, and the current governor of California can’t be too far behind.

25 comments:

Andrew said...

Anna Paquin has jumped to HBO. But that's not tv

ernie said...

Love your blog, but you should make a correction. Anna Paquin already is on a tv show, True Blood. Ernie

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

Is this less true now than it was ten or fifteen years ago? as TV shows get more adventurous, the cable nets push the envelopes and such. And why is it okay to do guest shots on a series? Laura Linney on Frasier, Jack Black (is he still a movie star?) on everything, pretty much everybody at one point or another on Friends or Will and Grace.

Can we place bets on when Tom Cruise does TV? Will he be the tough but idealistic DA? The rogue doctor who writes his own rules and butts heads withe establishment? Or the single dad looking for love in LA?

And I would never tell anyone how to blog, but maybe you could drop a few hints as to the identity of the C-lister and who needs January off for vacation. C'mon, revenge is a dish best served bloggy.

Rhea said...

Technically Julianne Moore would be returning to television since she started out as Frannie on As the World Turns. But of course, soap actors don't count as real television actors, they're a subset in that pecking order.

Patty Princess said...

Speaking of movie stars and TV, here's a Friday Question: Why does it take so long for a movie to get made versus the time for a TV series to air?

Question Mark said...

Jim, Cheers Fan has a point. Given the short seasons of cable shows, actors can fit in regular work on a series and still have plenty of time to shoot one or two films a year. And if you're on a really good show, that ropes in tons of new fans to see your movies. I've got several friends who went to see that lousy 'Gamer' movie last fall just because Michael C. Hall was the villain.

Tim W. said...

One question. Why would someone need a muffin basket to scratch their ass?

One thing I noticed about the names, especially of the women, they're all over 40 (at the very least). I'm guessing their getting sick of having to go the independent route to get half decent roles. If your name isn't Cate or Meryl, I'd guess the pickings are slim. Besides, I'm huge fans of Julianne Moore and Laura Linney.

Larry said...

It slices, it dices, and if you act now, it'll even Julienne Moore.

gottacook said...

For no apparent reason this post made me think of James Garner, who seems to be slowing down now that he's past 80 but has maintained a substantial career in both TV and movies for decades, until only a few years ago. Has any other American actor had such a (successful) dual career?

Jerad said...

quick note I believe the last word in "But here’s an interesting dynamic that I’ve deserved." should be observed.

And yeah, a couple of years ago a dear friend of mine was told several times over that she was the choice for the part, if Star X decided against doing tv.

YEKIMI said...

Movies, Television, Street Performing, Radio.

You are incorrect, sir!

The state that radio is in today the current pecking order is: Movies, Television, Street Performing, Sewer workers, Mimes, President, Mass murderers, Pedophliacs, Radio. [and this saddens me to say that being a former DJ in two major and one medium market]

Tony said...

James Garner no doubt succeeds in both mediums because he is the exception that proves the rule: the epitome of class!

Allison Williams said...

As a professional street performer, I support this ranking.

Sebastian said...

Jennifer was on "30 Rock". If you count David as "having returned" because of "30 Rock" and "Entourage", you have to count her as having returned too...

Anonymous said...

“They’ll all come to us eventually.”

I know an undertaker who pretty much says the same thing :)

olucy said...

Jennifer was on "30 Rock". If you count David as "having returned" because of "30 Rock" and "Entourage", you have to count her as having returned too...

David Caruso came back to star in his own show. Jennifer Anniston guest starred on 30 Rock. They're not even close.

Dave Williams said...

I'm pretty sure mimes and party clowns belong on the ladder ahead of radio personalities.

Mary Stella said...

But of course, soap actors don't count as real television actors, they're a subset in that pecking order.

James Franco approached General Hospital and wanted to appear. He played a convincingly creepy serial killer, still at large.

Maybe the story that he wanted to be on GH was a lie and they really blackmailed him with naked pictures of a giraffe.

Whatever the case, I like the show and choose to watch it over 90% of the stuff aired in prime time. So, let's not diss the soap stars too much.

Kate Coe said...

Matthew Broderick should be so lucky to get a series as good as Family.

BigTed said...

Jack Black can't do TV, because Tyler Labine ("Reaper," the upcoming "Sons of Tucson") is already playing him.

charlotte said...

[quote]On the food chain of entertainment it goes like this: Movies, Television, Street Performing, Radio.[/quote]

Don't forget the lowest of the low: animation! The only hope we ever have of getting celebrities of any caliber in the cast is when they have kids/grandkids who are fans of the show. (And also if we happen to be one of the few that's actually SAG.)

Ah, kids' TV: the true bottom-feeder.

Rhea said...

Dear Mary Stella,

Methinks the sarcasm intended in my post didn't translate well.

I'm a longtime soap fan, although General Hospital- despite Mr. Franco's presence- barely warrants the name over the past few years due to the particularly subpar quality of the writing. I was attempting to point out that Julianne Moore is returning to TV, something that's often forgotten since in soap work seems to rank lower on the totem pole than even infomercial work.

No need to harsh out.

evie said...

Baldwin started on a Soap, too. He was a teenager on the long-dead "The Doctors." And who can ever forget Knots Landing?

ebrown2112 said...

Helen Hunt actually won an Oscar and an Emmy in the same year. She stayed on "Mad About You" until the series ended in 1999. That's a rarity, obviously.

Thing is, some of the writing on TV (particularly cable) is as good or better than feature film writing. I dunno, is it really such a "step down" other than perhaps the paycheck? Is doing a good tv show really worse than doing a mediocre movie? I suppose it's about what one wants to get out of it. Maybe I'm just naive about the whole thing. But if you're happy with what you're doing, why should it matter if it's movies, television, stage, etc.?

And anyway, Julianne Moore IS still doing movies...

Anonymous said...

Hey genius, Anna Paquin's ALREADY on television! True Blood, HBO, ever hear of it? Only the best show this past year, alon w/It's Alwya Sunny in Philadelphia...