TV is not the new Film

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

In the current pilot season, there is a noticeable trend that a whole spate of well known movie stars are being cast for TV series. There was a time when it was only the big screen that had stars and the small screen which made stars. Nobody knew who Jennifer Aniston was before “Friends”, nor did the public know who George Clooney was before “E.R.”. And even recently, Katherine Heigl pre-“Grey’s Anatomy” was a relative unknown, while Steve Carrell before “The Office” had only appeared as a side-show in Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show”. Now, of course, Carrell is regarded as something of an A-list comedy film star.

So why is it that network execs are seeing an increasing need to cast established movie names such as Amanda Peet, Liz Hurley or even Kevin Spacey in the current crop of pilots?

Liz Hurley Wonder Woman

The primary reason must be the hope that ratings will rise because of these household names. However, there is very little evidence to suggest that movie stars in TV series can consistently improve a show’s chances of success. Sure, it may help improve the sampling of the opening episode, as it piques viewers’ interest – but in the long run, over the course of an entire season, audiences return to their favorite dramas and comedies because of the characters that interest them – not the star involved.

The attachment we form is with the narrative and the characters we’re engaged with, which is why a group of unknowns in a well constructed drama have a better chance of succeeding than a movie star led ensemble in an averagely written series.

Another reason for star attachments is that it may help the series get ordered in a competitive pilot season where some high profile pilots won’t even make it to series. Producers it seems feel their shows have a better chance of getting the nod if they manage to secure a big name. But if that’s the case, why not simply get that movie star to be another producer on the project?

Often the problem with a big-name star driving a new series is that everything is rewritten and reconceived for that actor. This ends up with a show that was far from the original vision of the creators.

So when looking to find the new “Lost” or “Grey’s Anatomy”, network execs might do well to think about casting less well known actors. TV is not the new film.

 

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