Within the past few years, American television has found itself populated with movie stars migrating to the TV screen. From Kevin Bacon on “The Following” to Mads Mikkelsen on “Hannibal” — to name a few from last season — the number only seems to be growing. This year’s freshman crop of shows already boasts the likes of Robin Williams (CBS’s “The Crazy Ones”), Anna Faris (CBS’s “Mom”), Greg Kinnear (FOX’s “Rake”) and more.
So why are stars from the big screen making the move to network TV?
Two of the most common reasons for this developing trend are the money and stability that a television series offers. Plus, unless the actor’s name is Will Smith or Angelina Jolie, films don’t always promise great salaries, especially when that film will often take over a year to complete.
It’s a different story for actors on television. Signing on to do a television series means that not only are they guaranteed work for a certain number of episodes, but if the show gets picked up for a whole season — and in turn, subsequent seasons — they’re guaranteed work for at least the next couple of years.
An added incentive is that the structure of television programming means that actors are paid per episode. The average starting salary for a television actor is a cool $30,000. Hence, stars like Ashton Kutcher, who is currently the highest paid actor on television, from “Two and a Half Men” rake in $700,000 per episode while Lea Michele, star of FOX moneymaker “Glee” has received $75,000 per episode.
Another perk is that not only does television allow for a greater number of compelling roles, but also that these characters have the space for the kind of growth and development a two-hour film can’t contain. Zooey Deschanel’s Jess on FOX’s “New Girl” would remain a caricature on film, but two seasons later, Jess is more complex, if not well rounded, than when she started.
Television also offers actors a kind of visibility that film doesn’t. Viewers tune in on a weekly — or even daily — basis as is evident with the rise of Net- flix streaming. Fans familiarize themselves with these actors and allowing them to build a fan following among their viewers.
But as attractive as a career in television sounds, a large part of it hinges on whether an actor’s show is picked up. As witnessed these past few seasons, having a big name star attached doesn’t mean instant success for a series. Christina Ricci’s “Pan Am” was cancelled after 14 episodes while Patrick Wilson’s “A Gifted Man” lasted only 16 episodes. Despite making it past their first seasons, Christian Slater’s “Breaking In” and Kathy Bates’ “Harry’s Law” still received the axe midway through their second season.
So even as television attracts bigger name stars who flock to the benefits that the big screen simply can’t offer, the real question remains whether they’ll be able to stay there.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Sept. 11 print edition. Nivea Serrao is a contributing writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.