This article featured a brief history on the reputation of television actors in relation to film, an analysis of the changing paradigm over the last decade between industries and a short list of talent that could make the transition.
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Here at The TV Dudes we are committed to providing our audience with the finest in digitally streaming audio recordings of round-table conversations, dedicated to the most popular television programs of the season. Every week, Grant, Randy, Greg and Johnny podcast their vivacious voices and share their lively discussions about all the shows on TV that matter to you . . . or at least all the ones they can fit on their DVR. We aim to please, but the Dudes are only human and can’t talk about Television everyday. So while the fans demand discourse a new team of writers (like myself) has heeded the call to provide you listeners with some articles dispensing food-for-thought. Think of these pieces as microwave TV dinners instead of your usual home-cooked, auditory meals; it’s not exactly filling but it’ll do ya in a pinch. Our audience is growing but with the growth comes an insatiable appetite for content. And now, to bed down your hunger for a short while, I have cultivated the most cherished of all Internet time wasters: a Top Ten list! This week’s topic is entitled “A-List Actors We Want to See On TV”. This was not an easy list to compile and hopefully it will not to be viewed as any sort of definitive draft but hopefully a tasty morsel and an eyebrow raising catalyst for discussion.
“A-List”, in this day-and-age, is becoming a more and more subjective term. In the past it may not have seemed like there was a difference between an actor in the movies and an actor on television but there was definitely a division (or at least stratification) between the two industries. Film was glamorous, larger-than-life, and had a 40-year history by the time TV was introduced. In contrast, Television was new, diminutive and initially a novelty.
Over the years, TV became a forum for new stars to be born or old stars to be put out to pasture. Television was the bottom rung for character actors to get their foot in the door or future stars hoping to climb up the Hollywood letter-grade ladder. They could start in commercials, get cast on a hit series, develop fan recognition—that would allow them to land a film role—“break out” and achieve respectability, which would last as long as they could maintain a string of box office successes.
This was the status quo for decades, but with the dawn of the 21rst century things started to change: film budgets began to bloat, spectacle became the status quo, independent films began to lose prominence and mature narratives were forgone in order to attract a broader audience. However, with the critical and cultural phenomenon of “The Sopranos” serialized and unfiltered storytelling bolstered TVs credibility and a steady string of film actors started migrating to the ‘small screen’ in search of greener pastures. The most industry-shaking example of this was in November of 2012 when HBO announced that two of Hollywood’s biggest actors, Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, would unite to star in a new anthology series called True Detective. McConaughey (who would first cameo on the HBO series Eastbound and Down) committing to even a single season of a TV series (especially during his 2011-2014 Oscar cumulative comeback) was considered revolutionary. Previously, movie stars might be seen guest starring on a popular sit-com but never before had they considered moving down the ladder for an entire season. The levels had become even.
In retrospect it wasn’t unthinkable. Award winning film actors had for years been making successful transitions to television. Actors like Martin Sheen (“The West Wing”), Kathy Bates (“Harry’s Law”), Kevin Bacon (“The Following”), Holly Hunter (“Saving Grace”), Laurence Fishburne (“Hannibal”), Jessica Lange (“American Horror Story”), Robin Williams (“The Crazy Ones”), Claire Danes (“Homeland”), Greg Kinnear (“Rake”), James Woods (“Shark”), Billy Bob Thorten (“Fargo”), William H. Macy (“Shameless”), Jeff Daniels (“The News Room”), Kevin Spacy (“House of Cards”), and the list goes on.
In the past decade Hollywood as started to transition into a post-”movie star” age. While new talents like Chris Pratt have made the leap from TV to Film, star power is no longer a factor in determining box office gains. In the 1980s and 90s A-list names like Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Will Smith would guarantee blockbuster dollars despite the quality of a film, but today big names are no longer a sure thing. Consequently a lot of talent is resigned to performing in mediocre movies and slowly they are being overlooked or forgotten.
However, there is hope. Television is becoming just as, if not more respectable, than cinema, with more variety of stories being told. As TV continues to evolve more and more screen artists are recognizing Television as an opportunity to achieve recognition, redirection or reinvention. It has become a venue for familiar character-actors like James Gandolfini and Steve Buscemi to become headlining stars, or where forgotten talents like Jessica Lange and Keifer Sutherland could remind audiences of why they were A-list to begin with.
So here we go. Here is a proposed list of former A-list movie stars or beloved actors whose careers could be boosted by a move to television or talents who we’d just love to see more of. I originally planned to split the list into 5 male and 5 female actors but in the time it took me to compile my names many of my choices already made the move to television! I’m looking at you Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins, and Keanu Reeves.
Viggo Mortensen has been acting alongside A-List stars like Harrison Ford, Denzel Washington, Sandra Bullock, Al Pacino, Sly Stallone, Michael Douglas, and Demi Moore since the 80s, but I never took note of his talent until 2001 when I first saw him in the role of Aragorn, the stoic and fearless leader of the fellowship, in Lord of the Rings. After that performance Mortensen rose to A-list status and began headlining movies but it seems like those projects earned him the validation he deserved—even after earning an Academy Award nomination in 2008. Sure, Viggo has worked consistently since Lord of the Rings, (he has 3 films being released this year and he’s filming another for next year) but I feel like a series could remind audiences why Viggo was a big part of why those movies are beloved. It’s time for a return of the King.
Jim Carrey’s has had an amazing career after a curiously bumpy beginning. To look at his IMDB page it’s amazing to see how many false starts, breakouts, setbacks and reinventions he’s endured. Some people remember first seeing him on the sketch TV show In Living Color. Some people remember his comedy blockbuster trinity of 1994 (Ace Ventura, The Mask, Dumb & Dumber). I remember being introduced to him way back in 1985 when his first starring comedy “Once Bitten” got endlessly replayed on HBO. Jim seemed to be following the career of a lot of A-list comedians before him. First he made a name for himself on television, and then he achieved stardom in comedy films before transitioning into more dramatic work. Unfortunately after some of his dramatic performances were disregarded (“The Majestic”, “The Number 23”) or shamefully overlooked (“I love you Philip Morris”) Carrey has returned to his comedic roots with diminishing returns. He’s even gone back to the well for a twenty year Dumb and Dumber sequel. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when Jim Carrey makes me laugh but I feel he is more than just a clown, and a role on a TV drama could showcase his versatility and give him the recognition his dramatic skills deserve.
I can’t think of a more talented, more charismatic actor with worse luck than Ryan Reynolds. The first time I became aware of him was when I was forced to watch the 2002, straight-to-video-comedy, “Van Wilder”. I immediately became a fan. The guy had A-List written all over him but he never quite earned that status. Soon afterwards Reynolds started appearing in all sorts of supporting roles like “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle”, “Blade: Trinity”, and “Waiting” and it seemed like any minute he was going to break out. He would have the occasional success (“The Proposal”) but mostly what followed was a decade long IMDB list of misfires (“The Green Lantern”), duds (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) and bombs (“R.I.P.D.). All the while sleepers (“Buried”), supporting roles (“Safe House”) or cameos (“Ted”) reminded fans that Ryan Reynolds could be a true A-lister if he just found the right project. I immediately considered him a prime candidate for a move to TV to revitalize his career. However, it was during my research that I was amazed to discover that he has actually starred in 4 (count ‘em, 4!) TV series since 1990! This includes a show that everybody (at the time) heard of, never watched and have since forgotten: “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place”. But that was then and this is now and with so many new opportunities on the small screen there certainly must be a place for Reynolds to find his niche.
I haven’t seen Maleficent but its 750 million dollar, worldwide, box-office is definitely qualifies Angelina Jolie as an A-List actor. And yet despite her international stardom and Best Supporting Oscar win I can’t say I’ve really liked most of her movies. To be fair I haven’t seen them all but when I look at her list of credits there are few that I’d want to watch again. “The Bone Collector”? Meh. “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”? Guh. “Beyond Borders”? Ugh. I didn’t even get what all the fuss was about with “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and don’t get me started on “Beowulf” or “The Tourist”. All snarkiness aside, Angelina Jolie’s talent and screen presence is undeniable and it’s a shame she hasn’t had more memorable roles because she clearly has the qualities of star. A television series might be a great place to reinforce her strong persona or even move outsider her comfort zone and try something different.
Jennifer Aniston / Steve Carell
This last slot is a two-for because both of these A-Listers have the unique claim to fame of originally making a name for themselves on TV, having some success in movies but never quite realizing their once promising potential (Friends/The Office). Both Jennifer and Steve have small roles in modern comedy classics (Office Space / Anchorman), both have been recognized for their performances in dramas (The Good Girl / Foxcatcher) and both have provided voices in beloved animated features (The Iron Giant / Despicable Me) but for the most part their movie roles have never been as rewarding as the sitcoms they shined in. Please go back to TV guys.