Here’s one of those Friday Questions that became an entire post.
It's from reader Joseph Scarbrough:
There was once a time when movie actors were considered, "Too big", "Too important", and/or, "Too expensive" to even remotely consider lowering themselves to do TV work (or at least, that's why none aside from Gary Burghoff reprised their M*A*S*H roles for the series), however, nowadays, Maria Bello, Kevin Spacey, Dennis Quaid, Ashley Judd, James Caan, even Samuel L. Jackson are all doing TV now. What's your personal opinion on this shift in movie actors migrating to TV? Are the actors trying to broaden and expand their own repertoire, or are networks still in the mindset that a show will only sell if it has star power?
Yes, we lowly television producers used to say, “They’ll all come to us eventually.” Actors who were once insulted that you offered them a multi-million dollar starring role in a television series are now actively campaigning to get on the little screen.
Why? A number of factors.
They age. Meg Ryan can no longer get starring romantic leads no matter how much collagen she uses.
Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks, and Tom Cruise are still taking all the good roles.
There are fewer studio movies being made. If movie stars want to still work exclusively in movies they might have to go the independent route. But there’s rarely big money in those. TV pays way better.
They learn the dirty little secret. Being on a series is a good life for an actor. Especially if he’s on a multi-camera show. Very few nights, regular hours, no extended location shooting, week long hiatuses once a month, more exposure, only 22 weeks of work a year, and great salary. That sure beats toiling for a year in Siberia for a film that bombs and winds up only being shown at 35,000 feet.
(Samuel L. Jackson should know this dirty little secret. Before he became a star he was Bill Cosby’s stand-in on THE COSBY SHOW.)
With so many people staying home watching their nice flatscreens, movie stars are starting to realize people are watching them exclusively on television anyway.
Some cool stars like Matt Damon have done TV so it’s now okay.
Movie studios used the last WGA strike to dump a ton of actor production company deals.
Networks make big plays for movie stars they think might be vulnerable. Lavish attention, private jet trips, etc. That all ends when the star’s pilot doesn’t test well and gets passed on for some Tim Allen vehicle.
I remember a few years ago on the Oscars they put together a reunion of actors who had won Academy Awards. It was shocking how many of them were out of work.
There’s much more status in television drama these days. You can thank HBO and SHOWTIME for that.
Premium cable series generally are only 13 episodes, not 22. It’s less of a commitment.
A-List movie directors are realizing they can make a boatload of money for directing TV pilots. They bring status and lure better talent. It’s hard for an agent to scoff at a TV pilot directed by Martin Scorsese.
Movie studios tend to typecast. If a movie star wants to break out and play a different kind of role he might have to do it on television.
I have found there’s sometimes a real disconnect between the career level a movie star thinks he’s at, and where he’s really at. When I had a development deal we got a note from an agent saying a certain actress would consider television that season but would only meet with A-list writers. This was a C-level actress. She couldn’t open a home movie. It was a joke. We sent back a note thanking the agent and saying if we had a role in a pilot the client was right for we would be delighted to have her read for it. Epilogue: She never got a series. In fact, I don't think she's still in the business anymore.
And finally – television is generally BETTER than movies these days. Especially in dramas. We’re in a golden age of TV drama. Studios make comic books. The best writers, the most daring concepts, the characters with the most dimension are now found in TV.
Welcome movie stars. We've been waiting for you.
Like I said, they all come to us eventually. Today’s unsold pilot might well become tomorrow’s AMY ADAMS SHOW.