Where have all the movie stars gone?

To the world of television, it seems. Am I the only confused as to why so many great film actors are heading to the small screen? Coming this fall, Maria Bello will be taking her turn as a tough-as-nails detective named Jane Timoney in a series called Prime Suspect.  You’ve probably seen the promos of her all bruised, beaten, bitten, and eating breakfast next a murder victim. Granted, this is an American take on a highly-praised police procedural from the UK which starred Helen Mirren. Having never seen the original, I can’t really take a stance on the series, but a police procedural? Really? Bello has turned fine performances in great films like A History of Violence and Towelhead. I would much rather see her in twee, indie films if nothing less, rather than another generic crime drama.

Patrick Wilson will be taking the lead in a series called A Gifted Man, a metaphysical take on the commonplace medical procedural. Wilson plays a talented surgeon named Michael Holt who’s dead, ex-wife begins appearing to him. Those behind the series say that why she chooses to appear to Holt (or whether it’s all in his head) will remain a mystery. At least for a while. While promising to be equally about science and medicine with a touch of spirituality, the setup seems average at best .  Despite having much respect for Wilson’s acting talent, I’m baffled as to why he would take time away from working with directors like Neil LaBute and Zack Snyder (I didn’t see Sucker Punch, I’m pretending it never happened).

And finally, indie darling Zooey Deschanel will be the star in her very own prime-time sitcom on NBC called New Girl. She plays an adorable, but naive gal who gets a bunch of new roommates after leaving an ex. I think. It’s definitely something that generic. I will admit, I’m kind of excited for this one. Deschanel has an undeniable appeal, and great comedic timing. The promos have made me laugh out loud more than once.  But is it wrong to turn my nose up at television when considering she could be spending her time doing Drunk History shorts, and making Sundance hits like (500) Days of Summer and My Idiot Brother?  And when I use the term “television,”  I’m not talking about network, and premium channel television like Breaking Bad or Boardwalk Empire.  I’m talking about wedged-between-30-rock-and-the-office-basic-cable television.

Tell me if I’m wrong, but it must be a money thing. Working in television can bring large paychecks, and they come on a weekly basis. Everyone knows that all six “Friends” made a million an episode for the last few seasons. Not to mention the syndication royalties they receive for every season after number five. Even those shows without uber-mass appeal bring in the money. It’s rumored Mariska Hargitay makes around $350,000 per episode of Law & Order: SVU. Mila Kunis somewhat famously said in regard to her time on That 70s Show:

What a lot of people don’t realize is that you make more money in TV than you will in film; it’s a very steady salary. An obscene amount of money gets given to you for, like… what? So I was 20 and I looked at my bank account and realized that I was secure for the rest of my life. I was like, ‘I’m OK. I can go do other things now.

This year’s Sundance film festival was quite exceptional.  It featured a number of outstanding films coming from some of the very best filmmakers in the industry, independent or not.  It was loudly discussed that the quality of the films at this particular independent film festival could be attributed to the global economic climate.  Filmmakers were forced, or perhaps they chose, to make smaller films, take smaller paychecks, focus on quality rather than big effects, A-list stars, or other luxuries generous budgets allow for.

Everyone needs to pay the bills.  I remind myself of this every time Neil LaBute makes something like Death at a Funeral.  Maybe talents like Wilson, Bello and Deschanel can’t justify sticking it out in art films when weekly serials offer more exposure, and a lot more money.  Just like Labute probably can’t afford a place in the Hills while directing things like In the Company of Men.  Until I can get one of these folks on the phone, I’ll just have to wonder what exactly there motivations are.  But I’ll put my two cents in now and say that if I could have it one way or another, I’d prefer these fine actors on the big screen.

What do you think?

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11 Responses to “Where have all the movie stars gone?”
  1. anna says:

    money might be an issue, but mainly i think these actors might not get interesting offers for the big screen.
    i like bello, but find wilson to be extremely bland, and deschanel was never a good actress, and the annoying, naive doll eyed schtick she is riding is wearing out, and choosing to repeat it again in an on going series will definitely end her career.

  2. i do think money is an issue–a steady paycheck is better than a sporadic one. but i think also it’s getting a new audience, as well as finding an opportunity to play characters on the small screen that they don’t have the opp to play on the big screen.

  3. blake says:

    @ Anna – I have to disagree with you about Wilson and Deschanel. Wilson is fantastic in Little Children and Hard Candy. At least I thought so. While I can see what you’re talking about with Deschanel’s lack of variety, I find her more serious roles quite interesting. She really impressed me in The Good Life.

    @ Candice – New exposure is a good point. He could boost their film careers after being exposed to and gaining the favor of the masses on television.

  4. Andrew K. says:

    I think Money might be an issue, but I think it’s roles mostly. For one, some of these actors haven’t been getting roles they deserve regularly (Wilson and Bello) and TV is a continuous medium so it allows them to play different shades of a character, instead of one for two hours.
    Andrew K.´s last blog post ..Darling, Rosaline…

  5. Dylan says:

    You’re Maria Bello (calm down, it’s just an example): you can either toil in Indiefilm Land or Moderatelywellknownmovie Land like you have been for the last dozen years, no doubt ekeing out a living (compared to your example of the Friends), or you can make (at minimum) $75,000 an episode (I’m assuming, based on her name and a somewhat low pay based on a non-hit show) for 12 to 26 episodes per year. It’s a no-brainer.

  6. Blake says:

    @ Andrew – Good point. Any publicity is good publicity, right?

    @ Dylan – Your hypotheticals make me nervous sometimes… Were I to be a decent indie film actor, I’d like to think I’d turn down the paycheck to maintain artist integrity. But I’m sure I wouldn’t. And it seems neither do these three.

  7. Anna says:

    Oh myyyyyyyy
    I’ve been really excited for Prime Suspect for a while.
    Anna´s last blog post ..Ciné Coverage : The Tree of Life (2011)

  8. Alan says:

    Did you happen to notice Christina Ricci’s doing a show called Pan Am? It’s supposed to be about the golden age of airline travel, back before the airlines charged us for putting air in the passenger compartments. I like Christina Ricci, but I don’t watch much TV, and I don’t expect that to change.

    I suspect what we’re seeing is a steady paycheck for those folks who aren’t big enough names to merit the multi-million dollar paychecks some folks get from film performances.

  9. Rodney says:

    I think it’s down to quality scripts and better characters – Hollywood’s falling behind with production of quality stories, while television’s come a long way in the last 10-20 years with increasing budgets and guys like HBO putting out quality, high-end drama week in week out. Plus, appearing in a TV series is no longer the embarrassment it once was to actors in film, because of the aforementioned quality scripts, characters and series. Transitioning across between the mediums is no longer an issue thanks to blanket celebrity interest.

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  1. […] Where have all the movie stars gone? | Bitchin' Film Reviews To the world of television, it seems. Am I the only confused as to why so many great film actors are heading to the small screen? Coming this fall, Maria.http://bitchinfilmreviews.com/ .. […]

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