Wednesday, February 1, 2012

TV Killed the Movie Star

At least, for the time being.

It is unlikely that it has gone completely unnoticed how much amazing television has been cropping up within the last ten years. I mean, there's always been good TV, don't get me wrong, but it seems that with increasing budgets for TV - especially HBO productions - TV has only been getting better and better.

There was a time not too long ago that being called a "television actor" was a derogatory term amongst actors. Everyone wanted to make it big on the Silver Screen, be a movie star, beloved the world over on that giant screen with those plush seats. Sure, there was a time when being a film star was disregarded by theatre actors, but that changed. And so, too, I think the time of the Television Actor as a second class citizen.

Shows like Six Feet Under seemed to mark a new trend that being in a television series was not a bad thing at all, compared to their film star counterparts. This time saw the rise of a shows that seemed more like a collection of films, a series of moments that could be more deeply explored due to their increased time frame. The medium allowed for more character development, longer and deeper plot lines and more exploration of the world these characters exist in.

It isn't hard for me to name, off the top of my head, shows that fall into this category of A Series of Films, shows like Dexter, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, Castle, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, shows that you feel you must own on DVD to watch and rewatch. These shows become an obsession, something to be spoken about, speculated about. And that's not even mentioning series that have finished like Lost and Detroit 1-8-7. And, yes, Firefly, of course.

Even shows that are just starting like Boss, Luck, Homeland and, in a more pulpy sense, Spartacus and American Horror Story are taking over the airwaves and capturing us with film-like episodes.

This doesn't even speak to the quality of actor who are now taking part in these. It seemed to start in the late 90s with first Michael J. Fox and then Charlie Sheen being the leads in Spin City but then big actors becoming "TV actors" was still a fall from grace in a sense. What I truly believe was the turning point was twofold: Tim Roth on Lie to Me and shortly after Jeff Goldblum on Law and Order: Criminal Intent. With these two big-name actors moving to television, it was clear that was a revolution. And people noticed. Even Laurence Fishburne joined the cast of CSI.

Then it started becoming obvious the talent that lay in these television actors - Michael C. Hall (from both Six Feet Under and Dexter), Michael Pitt (Boardwalk Empire), Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Nathan Fillion (Castle) and that's only naming a few.

I haven't even mentioned the household names like Steve Buschemi in Boardwalk Empire, Kelsey Grammar in Boss, Sean Bean in Game of Thrones and John Hannah in Spartacus.

It seems like the prejudice towards being a television actor is over and people are starting to realize that it's not a fate worse than dearth. In fact, it seems to be better than being a film actor seeing as how poor the quality of films have been lately. This truly is the Golden Age of Television.


1 comment:

  1. I both agree and disagree with some of the points raised here. Yes, we're in the golden age of television and it's certainly no longer looked down upon as a storytelling medium or as a vehicle for actors to make names for themselves. I don't think it's killed, replaced, or otherwise surpassed the movie star, however. That time may yet come but it isn't here yet.

    As for the rise of television with HBO as the frontrunner, I think you skipped the two key (and two best) series that really changed the viewing landscape and they are The Sopranos (1999) and The West Wing (1999, NBC). HBO first garnered attention with the critically acclaimed Oz in 1997 but it wasn't until The Sopranos that absolutely everybody sat up and paid attention. It was a smash hit and it catapulted the careers of all involved. Which is another you didn't really hit upon - TV has long been and remains the means through which actors launch themselves onto the big screen.

    The most notable and enduring example of that is of course, George Clooney, but it continues today with the likes of Robert Sheehan (Nathan from Misfits) leaving the show once he gained notoriety to work on films and Aiden Turner from Being Human (now working on The Hobbit) as well as the more notable Jon Hamm, Christina Hendricks and January Jones, all from Mad Men, now popping up everywhere - not to mention Taylor Kitsch who you will soon see in just about everything, from Battleship to John Carter to the Hunger Games and who made a name for himself on the incredible Friday Night Lights..

    The Sopranos/West Wing really showed that investing in great television pays dividends and I think paved the way for the amazing television that followed, like The Wire, Deadwood, Firefly, House etc. Certainly there's a point to be made that the small screen is proving alluring enough to bring the actors that leave it, back into the fold, with Dustin Hoffman in Luck, Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire and Kathy Bates in Harry's Law, to name a few.

    It seems, now that I think about it, a little bit like the veterans are finding new places for themselves in television and the younger actors or the newly famous middle-aged ones are finding it easier to step up to the big screen. It's not so much that TV killed the movie star as it is they've entered a long term relationship and there's more crossovers and exchanges occurring. On a last note, since I should actually be doing work, for all the terrible films we've seen in the past decade, there have also been some truly fantastic cinematic efforts, the sort that will top 'best of' lists for many, including myself :)