There was a time not too long ago when television was considered a lower form of entertainment compared to the movies. Aside from maybe a guest appearance, big, famous movie stars would never even think of doing TV. Of course you could get your start in TV and then graduate to movies, but going from movies to TV? That would be outrageous. But times have changed and more and more people who used to only work in film are now working in TV. Actors like William H. Macy, Kathy Bates, Steve Buscemi, and Jason Schwartzman all now star on their own shows. So why the change? There are a few reasons.
1. Steady work
Fame is fleeting. Not that many actors can get work just based on their name anymore. There was a time when actors were seen as commodities, when all it would take for a film to do well was have a "name" attached to it. That time is pretty much gone. Sure, that probably still applies to someone like Julia Roberts, but most actors are seen as interchangeable and they can't take for granted that movie studios will keep calling. But a TV show gives you a reliable job and if you get on one that has a loyal following - like Law & Order - or one that's hugely popular - The Office - you're set. And there's little chance shows like that will be canceled.
2. Time off
Network shows have what 22 or so episodes in a season? And a lot of cable shows have less than half that. So actors can shoot for a few months and then still have time to make a film or two in the off season.
3. Career resurrection
Unlike a movie that could be in the theaters for a couple weeks - if it makes it there at all - TV gives actors weekly exposure. Look at someone like Chevy Chase. I think it's safe to say that Chase's best days were in the 80s, when he made a lot of good films. Most people had probably forgotten about him until he got a lead role on the funny Community. And now he's once again showcasing his talent and people are watching. Most likely this will get him more work and, ironically, probably in the movies.
And maybe the biggest reason:
The quality of TV has arguably caught up with (or maybe even surpassed) film. Mind-numbing reality shows and anything starring Charlie Sheen aside, there's a lot of good stuff on the boob tube now. The networks still have a few good shows and cable has lots. Shows like Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men are probably just as good as anything likely to hit the big screen, and good actors want quality projects to work on.
Plus with most movies now aimed at kids or males under age 25, where does that leave someone like Schwartzman or Bates? Unless of course Wes Anderson calls or they're making a sequel to FRIED GREEN TOMATOES.
Chances are you're not going to be seeing people like Sean Penn or Meryl Streep starring in their own show anytime soon. However, this trend of movie stars migrating to TV looks like it will continue as the line between "lower" and "higher" entertainment becomes all the more blurred.
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Mar 1, 2011 3:24 AM
|Good column, Tim. But I wouldn't underestimate the lure of TV, especially now that premium cable is cranking out some serious stuff. You pointed out Boardwalk Empire starring the King of the Indies, Steve Buscemi. Glenn Close did Damages and Ron Perlman is on Sons of Anarchy (I know, I know - he did Beauty and the Beast, but that was - what - 20 years ago?)|
Point is, you're right, and the trend is going to continue, because actors want to work, but they all don't want to do adolescent comedies (GROWN-UPS).
Oh - one more thing - Ms Streep isn't below doing a stinker - remember SHE-DEVIL?
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Born to write (literally – much to the displeasure of his mother, he emerged with a pencil clutched in one tiny fist), Tim spends most of his days crafting epic monosyllabic poems, new comical titles to his favorite Beatles' songs (Hey, Dude), and angry letters to local businesses that have wronged him in some way. He's really an okay guy once you get to know him.|
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