Television has long served as a launch pad for actors and actresses looking to break through the glass ceiling into the Hollywood scene, specifically the wide world of film. George Clooney has multiple Academy Award nominations, but he became a household name thanks to six seasons of ER in the 90s. Tom Hanks won back-to-back Oscars in 1993 and 1994, but might not have those statuettes if not for his two-season run on Bosom Buddies in the early 80s. Michelle Williams has won over audiences with exceptional turns in Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine and My Week with Marilyn, but it was her five-year run on The WB's Dawson's Creek that brought her to our attention. And of course, not all movie stars have memorable TV pasts. Viola Davis starred on Century City, Traveler and City of Angels, none of which are remotely remarkable in her current success. And perhaps Jennifer Lawrence would rather forget that, before X-Men: First Class and The Hunger Games, she played Bill Engvall's daughter on his self-titled TBS sitcom.
But what about when you've reached the pinnacle of entertainment and you're a movie star? You've done it all, but now your name is no longer as relevant. Sometimes movie stars make the backwards trek to television in a bid to save their sinking career. As recently as ten years ago, television was viewed as vastly inferior to film. To make the jump from movies to television meant a career demotion. You just wouldn't see Steve Buscemi, Ashley Judd and especially Dustin Hoffman starring in their own television shows. Plenty of today's stars started out in television, of course, but ending up where you started? Just wouldn't make sense.
But something significant changed in the last decade. Television changed forever. Programs like The Sopranos, Sex and the City and Six Feet Under put HBO on the map and helped establish that television was the place to be to tell good stories beyond the two-hour window of film. Then along came Showtime's Weeds and Dexter, FX's The Shield and Rescue Me, AMC's Mad Men and Breaking Bad and, most recently, Starz' Boss. Television has evolved beyond the usual network fare that litters our airwaves to this day. Cable dramas have single-handedly grabbed many a Hollywood star who yearned to find work in a new field.
Cable isn't the only place for good storytelling. FOX's 24 and ABC's Lost became staples in the last ten years for continuing story arcs that attracted wide audiences. So now, movie stars are making the jump to television in droves. This year alone has seen Laura Dern get Enlightened, Zooey Deschanel become the New Girl, Minka Kelly become one of Charlie's Angels and Christina Ricci fly Pan Am. Hey, I didn't say they were all winners!
Even last month saw a barrage of stars previously known for film making the jump to TV: Don Cheadle in House of Lies, Dustin Hoffman on Luck, Rob Schneider play Rob and Michael Clarke Duncan on The Finder.
There are a handful of stars making the rounds in film that might be better served in television. I'm not saying these stars will ever see the light of the boob tube, or even should, but I honestly feel these stars would have their needs better met on the small screen.
**Robert De Niro**
At one time, Robert De Niro was one of the most recognizable names on the big screen. Perhaps he still is, despite less-than-favorable films like Killer Elite, New Year's Eve and Everybody's Fine. Nominated for six Academy Awards, including two wins (The Godfather Part II in Supporting, Raging Bull in Lead), De Niro had it all thirty years ago. He enjoyed mainstream success in The Deer Hunter, The Godfather Part II and The Untouchables, as well as multiple partnerings with director Martin Scorsese in Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and Cape Fear (the last film for which he received an Oscar nod, in 1992). His career surged once again in 1999 with the release of mob comedy Analyze This, followed closely by Meet the Parents in 2000, The Score in 2001 and Meet the Fockers in 2004.
Once Fockers left theatres, De Niro went into a deep slump with the box office and audiences, thanks to bland horror flick Hide & Seek, subpar Pacino teaming on Righteous Kill and a tired, phoned-in-by-all-involved Little Fockers in 2010. Of course De Niro likely doesn't need the money, nor the audience adoration (which he already has, no matter what crappy movies he partakes in), but I can't help but think that as the veteran actor reaches his 70th birthday next year, he wouldn't be a welcome addition to HBO in a crime drama, playing the gritty, seen-it-all detective as he nears his retirement.
Alas, with numerous movies on the horizon and likely no interest in television to close out his career, De Niro will likely stick with what he knows best. For now, I can just pray we've seen the last of the Fockers clan. I could just settle for...
No stranger to TV, thanks to Emmy-award winning turns in 2003's Angels in America and 2010's You Don't Know Jack, Al Pacino is another aging actor with better years behind him, unable to play the same roles he played forty years ago. Racking up eight Academy Award nods in his lifetime, finally winning in 1993 for Scent of a Woman, his last Oscar nomination to-date, Pacino has been relatively quiet in the last twelve years. After starring in Insomnia, Simone and The Recruit between May 2002 and January 2003, the actor plodded his way through critically-reviled Gigli and Two for the Money.
He tried to gain back some credibility with actioners 88 Minutes and Righteous Kill, but instead was met with massive indifference. It all came to a head last November when Pacino played himself opposite Adam Sandler in dual roles in Jack and Jill. Worse still, he played himself being attracted to Sandler's female half. Where's Serpico? Don Corleone? Even Viktor Taransky would be disappointed in Pacino. Upcoming is a turn as Phil Spector in a yet-untitled HBO biopic, guaranteeing Pacino's third Emmy nomination. Why not call it a day and stay with the pay cable network for your own show, Al? If De Niro won't take that proposed cop drama, maybe you can do it. Better yet, team up De Niro and Pacino one last time... on the small screen!
Oh well, if you decide not to Al, at least you won't end up doing a movie about John Gotti's life, in which Gotti is played by John Travolta and Junior Gotti's wife is played by Lindsay Lohan... oh... IMDb confirms that you are doing just that. Well, good luck with that, Mr. Pacino.
Speaking of aging actors that look like they're 70, Lindsay Lohan has had the privilege of seeing what her life would've turned out like if she hadn't become a drug addict: Emma Stone. Emma has all the appeal of Lohan circa 2004, and more. After Mean Girls, Lohan was everywhere, showing off her bare breasts on more than a few occasions. Seriously, Playboy should've released some of those nip slips from six years ago. I wonder if they can ask for a refund on the purchase.
In any event, Lohan is an example of too much, too fast for an unstable personality. After Herbie: Fully Loaded, Just My Luck and Georgia Rule, Lohan's career began a freefall, including unseen-by-all roles in I Know Who Killed Me, Chapter 27 and TV-movie Labor Pains. Robert Rodriguez must have felt generous when he cast Lohan in his bloodbath flick Machete two years ago, but the troubled actress has not used the film to push herself forward. Thanks to a variety of personal dilemmas (too many to name, the column is already pushing its limits), Lohan's career has stalled, possibly forever. The damage is irreparable, as far as I can tell.
Which is why I have crafted a short plan to bring the actress back into favorable light. Why? Because I care too much, that's why!
Step 1: Dancing With the Stars. It's sad, but Lohan would likely be the most recognizable star in DwtS history. That's right, DwtS. That's what the cool kids call it. There's no shame in having Tom Bergeron tell you that you did a good job before Bruno Tonioli calls you a beautiful butterfly flowing blissfully through the air.
Step 2: After finishing 6th on DwtS, do a few well-timed interviews claiming your sober and ready to work again. People Magazine was made for your comeback trail.
Step 3: Do TV. Comedy, drama, who cares? Your days in film are over. Unless you count Lifetime movies. And no one does.
See: Lindsay Lohan. Add at least 30 pounds. And stop dating dumb people. When you settle for Ashton Kutcher, you settle for less.
There was a brief period in late 2008 where Elizabeth Banks had 17 movies released in 12 weeks. That is not an exaggeration. Everyone has, at least, a vague recollection who Banks is after seeing her, but she hasn't crossed over into movie star territory. She has shown up in movies like Surrogates, The Next Three Days and, most recently, Man on a Ledge. Coming up soon is The Hunger Games, the next Twilight saga, seemingly for more mature moviegoers. But she's not the star. She's never really the star in any of her movies. She's likable, has a certain presence on screen and can pull off comedy and drama. But she just doesn't seem able to make that move away from middle-of-the-pack.
Which is why I'm proposing a televised future for her. This year alone has seen Poppy Montgomery, Maria Bello, Jennifer Morrison and Madeleine Stowe continue to prove that strong lead female characters are needed more than ever on television. Elizabeth Banks would fit perfectly in this TV world.
If I had to choose a specific genre for her, I'd lean towards comedy. She has a recurring role on NBC's 30 Rock, but who's really watching that anymore? However she could do just about anything: play a lawyer on a courtroom drama, play a cop on a gritty crime series, play a single mom trying to make her way in the world.
Agree? Disagree? Have your own opinions? Sound off below in the comments section and share your views.
-TV Land has renewed rookie sitcom The Exes! A second season has been ordered for a show you vaguely know exists, starring actors you barely remember.
-Showtime has ordered a second season of rookie comedy House of Lies, as well as 3rd and 6th seasons of Shameless and Californication, respectively. A victory for pay cable nudity!
-Over at The-Show-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, Simon Cowell let loose, firing Steve Jones, Nicole Scherzinger and Paula Abdul for the singing competition's second season. I can understand Jones and Scherzinger. But you know how when you throw stuff out, then you get into a mood and start throwing out more than you planned on? Maybe it's not too late to retrieve Paula from the city dump!
-Thursday's airing of Rob! notched 11.28 million viewers last night, out of The Big Bang Theory's 16.38 million. The 18-49 demo wasn't much better, pulling 3.4 out of TBBT's 5.4. Meanwhile, Person of Interest continues to grow in CSI's old timeslot, scoring 14.92 million viewers and a 3.3 demo. Did anyone really think a sitcom starring Rob Schneider and Cheech Marin in the year 2012 would be a smash hit?
-Over at NBC, news is dire on Thursday. 30 Rock opened the night with a depressing 3.21 million and 1.3 demo. Compare Free Agents' final episode in September, which mustered up 3.08 million and a 1.0 in the demo. Competition or not, NBC must be feeling the hurt today. Talk about needing a Smash hit.
-FOX has found an unlikely hit combination on Monday night with veteran medical drama House (8.64 million/2.8 demo) and newcomer Alcatraz (8.34 million/2.7 demo). If only FOX could find another night so consistent in its success. Friday is consistently bad.
-The highest rated show on Saturday night was UFC on FOX with a 2.5 demo and 4.77 million viewers at 9pm. Yes, Saturdays are still dead.
That's it for this week's look at the future (perhaps?) stars of television. Please let me know in the comments section below if there are any topics that I haven't covered that you would like to see discussed here. Are there any other changes I can make to improve? I'm open to suggestions.
I'll be back next week with a brand new column.
Until then, stay tuned.