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Help Me Out Here

November 30th, 2008

A few decades ago, movie stars never starred in TV series; that would have been considered a career-ending downgrade. Many went from television to movies, but not the other way around. Some made cameo appearances, but did not star. I recall, however, that there was one big-name movie actor who did make the transition, and very successfully–and thus opened up the floodgates. Now, we see lots of big-name actors with TV shows–some not even in the starring roles, such as Harvey Keitel in Life on Mars. But tons of movie stars can now be seen on TV shows–James Spader, Edward James Olmos, Holly Hunter, Gary Sinise, Keifer Sutherland, James Caan, Martin & Charlie Sheen, Alec Baldwin, James Woods, and Glenn Close.

Here’s a trivia question: who was that breakthrough actor or actress who legitimized television as an option for film stars? I ask not because I know, but because I can’t remember. Candice Bergen stands out as an early example (Murphy Brown started in 1988), but for some reason that doesn’t sound like the right answer. But I don’t know, maybe it was.

So, who was it? Remember, it must be someone who was known primarily as a movie actor–ruling out people like Michael J. Fox, who gained fame as a TV star first.

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  1. Debbie
    December 1st, 2008 at 09:55 | #1

    Broderick Crawford is the one who comes to mind. He won and Oscar for his performance as Willie Stark in All the King’s Men in the late 40’s and went on to star on the TV show Highway Patrol from 1955 to 1959. Hope that helps.

  2. Luis
    December 1st, 2008 at 11:16 | #2

    Hmm… interesting! That’s not what I was thing of though–something more in the 80’s. Maybe it was OK for Crawford because at that time, TV was still a very new technology, and may have been much more cutting-edge. I think in the 60’s and 70’s, probably the 80’s as well, it was considered more of a ghetto for actors. Now it is (at least in part) considered a much more viable medium.

  3. Todd
    December 1st, 2008 at 11:52 | #3

    I don’t know the answer to your question, but I’ve heard that one reason that it’s very popular for movie actors and actresses to move to television is location and schedule. Most TV series are shot in a single location, so those working on the series can rent or buy a home near work. And the shooting keeps to a somewhat regular schedule, so those working on the series can enjoy some kind of a reasonable family/personal life.

  4. December 2nd, 2008 at 00:47 | #4

    Rock Hudson was probably an early one with McMillan and Wife. He was on TV in the 70’s.
    Maybe Robert Wagner as well, with It Takes a Thief, Switch and then Hart to Hart. According to IMDb he did a lot of TV from the late 60’s on.

    Too early? Jane Wyman and Angela Lansbury did quite a bit of TV in the 80’s.

  5. Paul
    December 2nd, 2008 at 05:22 | #5

    Money. TV sitcoms, in particular, became a lot more lucrative once syndication of shows took off; if you were lucky enough to wind up on a big show that ran more than 5 seasons, you could make a LOT of dough. If your show was sold into syndication, you kept getting royalty payments for years and years.

    The stars you mention, Luis, tend to be “B” list types, though. You don’t see the really big ones going onto TV; they’re still making more money and working less overall if they’re in movies. A guy like Will Smith or George Clooney isn’t going to go (back) to TV unless his movies all start to tank, and they both choose too wisely for that to happen.

    (Although there are rumors that Clooney will do an appearance on ER at some point during this final season for that show.)

    But who’s the star? Beats me. Maybe Cybil Shephard, with “Moonlighting”? She was never really a TV star until AFTER she did that show, although I’d still call her a B-lister type as a movie actor.

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