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?”
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.