You Oughta Be In Pictures…And You Oughta Be On TV
by Matt Sills
When you ask most actors what they aspire to, most will tell you they want to be in the movies. There’s a mystique to film that that other visual medium, television, just doesn’t have. True, these days actors easily move back and forth between the small and big screen, but it’s still the dream of most television actors to make it big in the movies. It makes going back to television a glorious return rather than crawling back with your tail between your legs. Some television actors were made to be movie stars, while some, well, they were made to be on TV. Here’s three TV actors who made it big, and a few who should have stayed in the box.
Here’s the guys who have done pretty darn well:
At this point, he’s been one of the best box office bets in movie history for so long that you almost forget that Hanks got his start on TV. But in 1980, he was a little known actor when he was hired to play Kip Wilson on the sitcom Bosom Buddies. You remember that show, about the two guys who dress up as women so they can live in an inexpensive all-women’s apartment. While it only lasted two seasons and didn’t get great ratings, Hank’s performance on the show made an impression. That, along with a guest starring role on Happy Days, got the attention of Ron Howard, who was preparing a movie about a regular guy who falls in love with a mermaid. Splash became a box office hit, and started Hanks down the road to becoming one of the most recognizable, and acclaimed, movie stars of all time. Other than a guest stint on Family Ties back in the mid 80’s, Hanks hasn’t been back to TV as an actor since.
If you watched The Facts of Life during its 6th and 7th seasons (I did), none of your fellow Eastland School fans would have laughed at you if you thought that goofy looking guy with the mullet playing the slacker carpenter would amount to anything. But here he is, 25 years later, one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. How the hell did that happen? Well, George Clooney has proved that beyond his jealousy inducing good looks, he’s also smart and pretty damn funny. Clooney, who toiled for 14 years doing small roles and bit parts on TV before making it big on ER, made his first smart move by sticking around the TV show that made him famous even after he had become a movie star. What’s kept him around are his smart choices. Yes, he’s done some really horrible films (Batman and Robin, anyone?), but he’s also done some eclectic work for such luminaries as Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, Alexander Payne and the Coen Brothers, starring in everything from small indie films to big budget actioners. Oh, and just in case you forgot, he’s an Academy Award winner.
I was a huge fan of Moonlighting, but even I was surprised when I first saw the trailers for Die Hard. “Wait a second,” I thought, “what the heck is David Addison doing in an action film?” Remember, in 1987, Willis was still mostly known as a comedic actor, for both Moonlighting and those awful Seagram’s wine cooler ads, which were both hilarious for their own reasons. He had tried to extend that fame into the movies, starring in a couple of Blake Edwards’ comedies, but both of these bombs made it seem like Willis wouldn’t have much popularity beyond the small screen. Then Die Hard was released, and suddenly, Willis was a movie star. He would only last a couple more seasons on Moonlighting, but after Die Hard, that show was an afterthought. Willis would go on to become one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood, leaving Cybill Shepherd and wine coolers in his dust.
And here’s the guys who probably should have left well enough alone:
The Cast of Friends
Yes, the ENTIRE cast of Friends. I think we can all agree the men have not faired well at all. To be honest, the men haven’t fared very well on TV since then, either. Lisa Kudrow has popped up here and there, but has pretty much forgone the film route. Courtney Cox did appear in the hit Scream films, but she wasn’t the reason those films were hits, and her TV career since then has been much better. “Hey, you’re forgetting Jennifer Aniston! She’s a movie star!,” you might say. Well, you’d be wrong. Jennifer Aniston is a celebrity, but she is not a movie star. Aniston has starred in a few box office winners, but those films starred the likes of Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, and an adorable dog, so she had a little help. When she’s asked to carry a film, like in The Object of My Affection, Management, or The Switch, the films disappear from theaters faster than it took The Rachel to become a passe hairstyle. Sorry, Jennifer, but you and the cast of Friends just weren’t made for the movies.
When it comes to TV actors bombing in the movies, David Caruso’s name has almost become a verb. Caruso had supporting roles in both film and TV before getting the leading role of Detective John Kelly on the hit series NYPD Blue. The role made Caruso a household name, and earned him an Emmy nomination. When it came time to start shooting the second season, Caruso asked for a very large raise, then quit when he didn’t get it. The spin that came out at the time was that it wasn’t just about money, but about Caruso’s desire to become a leading man in the movies. Caruso was written out of the show four episodes into the second season, and he was off to pursue the big screen roles that he wanted to. This lead to box office bombs like Jade and Proof of Life, and the first great joke on South Park (go to this link to see what I’m talking about: http://www.southparkstudios.com/clips/149615/moo-moo-moo). Luckily, Caruso didn’t hang around film too long, and made his way back to the medium he was meant for. Since 2002, he’s starred on the hit CSI: Miami…and hasn’t made one appearance in a movie.
Katherine Heigl was a child actress who had small roles in film and TV, but was largely unknown until she got the part of Dr. Izzie Stevens on Grey’s Anatomy. She co-starred in a couple of sucessful films during her time on the show, setting herself up for a nice post-Grey’s movie career. But instead of following in the footsteps of Bruce Willis or George Clooney, both of whom established themselves as box office draws before leaving their respective shows, Heigl seems to have followed the path of Shelley Long, who gained her fame on Cheers. Like Long, Heigl left an incredibly popular show at its height. Both women left their respective shows saying that they wanted to spend more time with their families, but there were rumors in both cases that each left trying to forward their film careers, and their exits from their shows were far from amicable. Long’s career sputtered almost immediately, and other than popping up here and there, she’s pretty much disappeared from the radar. Heigl, while not suffering from the same career freefall as Long, continues to put out bomb after bomb in theaters. It says something that just this month, Heigl mentioned in an interview that she would like to return to Grey’s Anatomy. Coincidence? I think not.