Matthew McConaughey had just come off the best film role in his career in “Dallas Buyers Club” and was the front-runner for the Best Actor Oscar when he accepted a role from HBO this year to star in “True Detective.”
Why would he leave film for TV? Isn’t that a step backward?
Well, he’s not alone.
Woody Harrelson went from TV to film to return to TV as his co-star for 13 episodes of the show.
Claire Danes. Kate Winslet. Glenn Close. And there are more where they came from.
Big stars are flocking to the small screen. The tide has turned in TV land, and the viewers are the beneficiaries.
Time was when working in television was the kiss of death. Actors and actresses got their start in the genre and used it as a springboard to film stardom. Many, such as Farrah Fawcett, left or tried to leave their shows when film roles beckoned. Those who worked in film would never even look at a TV script. George Clooney left “ER,” and his movie career never needed resuscitation. OK, sure there was “Superman.” But then came “Gravity,” “Michael Clayton,” “Syriana” and a whole host of writing and producing credits as well as an Oscar.
Today, for many reasons, the TV stigma has changed.
In recent years, we’ve seen stars such as Kyra Sedgwick make the move to TV. Don Cheadle successfully extended his status from supporting actor in the “Oceans 11” franchise to leading-man status in Showtime’s “House of Lies.”
Kevin Spacey broke into Hollywood as con man Verbal Kint in “The Usual Suspects” in 1995. Today, he’s the powerhouse behind the Netflix breakout “House of Cards.” Another film alum, Robin Wright, best known for “The Princess Bride” and as Jennie in “Forrest Gump,” is his co-star.
Winslet is a perfect example of an actress who will work wherever a good script takes her, and she has an Oscar for “The Reader” and an Emmy for “Mildred Pierce” as well as notable nominations in both industries to prove it. Judi Dench and Helen Mirren also have switched back and forth successfully between big and small screens.
The move to TV comes at a time when the film industry is having problems wooing audiences to leave their homes and shell out mega-bucks for mega-flops. The TV industry, on the other hand, is enjoying commercial success and critical acclaim. Many more TV projects are getting the green light.
For some actors, a better schedule may better suit family lives. They want the stability of showing up on a soundstage each day and not traveling far away on location. That may be why you will see new mom Halle Berry on the small screen this summer in “Extant” playing an astronaut who returns home from a year-long solo mission in space and tries to reconnect with her husband and son in their everyday life.
Yet others have cited better scripts and the opportunity for creative input and more character development in their roles. Think of Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in HBO’s “Behind the Candelabra.”
Initially, only the premium networks such as HBO and Showtime were able to woo big movie stars, but now it’s the other networks pulling in stars such as Robin Williams (“The Crazy Ones” on CBS) and Kevin Bacon (Fox’s “The Following”). Greg Kinnear stars in “Rake” on Fox. Expect to welcome Susan Sarandon and Meg Ryan into your living room next year.
Of course, networks don’t mind opening their wallets to big stars in the hopes of opening up a wider audience. That’s probably why CBS did something unprecedented when it gave “Extant” a straight-to-series order without commissioning a pilot first.
Every day brings more casting news. Ryan Phillippe is filming a pilot for an ABC drama. Sharon Stone is gearing up to portray a U.S. vice president in TNT’s “Agent X.” And a film star is in a TV series based on a movie. Billy Bob Thornton will headline the Coen brothers’ “Fargo” on FX in the spring.
It’s not just actors finding opportunities in television either. Directors, producers and writers also are returning to the small screen. Film producer M. Night Shyamalan will see TV people when he brings the miniseries “Wayward Pines” to Fox this summer with his reasoning that “the medium is character-based and darker in tone” than film.
Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams are other examples. Spielberg is producing “Extant.” Abrams now has “Almost Human” on Fox. Even Ben Affleck and Matt Damon will produce a pilot for CBS.
Of course there are some limits to whom you will see. Jennifer Lawrence probably won’t abandon the silver screen for the third TV reincarnation of “Charlie’s Angels.” And Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese probably won’t be teaming up for a Lifetime TV movie any time soon.
But who knows their plans for 2015?