The small screen just got bigger

2011-01-28 08:39

Some celebrities just keep coming back to reclaim their stake in entertainment and often find refuge on the small screen.

Take Patrick Dempsey, for instance, the 1980s star of Can’t Buy Me Love who took on the role of Dr Shepherd on the hit-show Grey’s Anatomy and became an overnight sensation.

The same is true of Desperate Housewives stars Teri Hatcher and Nicollette Sheridan; Brothers and Sisters stars Rob Lowe and Calista Flockhart; and Cougar Town’s Courteney Cox.

More recently, former Married with Children star Katey Sagal received a Golden Globe for her role in the series, Sons of Anarchy.

Believe it or not, the phenomenon of actors moving to the small screen has been attributed to the global recession.

As the price of movie tickets go up, fewer people have money to spend on the movies, so they opt to stay at home and watch a TV series. This means more work for actors on TV.

At the same time, a movie director who is less sure of his or her audience won’t take a chance on a has-been from the 1980s.

Instead, he or she will stick with the ­Brangelinas of the world, who are guaranteed to pull in audiences.

André Neveling, the editor of ­tvplus, agrees: “Instead of fighting for big roles, former movie stars can have their own TV shows.

Take Kirstie Alley, for example, she might not sell movie tickets any more, but an inside look on her life in Kirstie Alley’s Big Life ­(reality show) is must-see television.”

Even local stars have opted for the small screen to get back into the limelight. After featuring in the Oscar-winning District 9, South African actress Vanessa Haywood has gone on to the small screen for maximum exposure. She will soon appear in Survivor: Maldives.

Reality TV, of course, has given has-beens the perfect platform to relaunch their careers or even just grow their profile with audiences.

Jennifer Lopez is a perfect example of this, as is her forerunner on American Idol, Paula Abdul.

Lopez has been rather quiet over the past few years, focusing on her family. Her comeback romcom, The Back-Up Plan, did well at the box office, but by signing up for TV’s American Idol she’ll command an audience of 33 million – and that’s just in the US.

According to Dan Aucoin of The Boston Globe, audiences seem to accept the comebacks: “It gives us, the audience, a leading role.

We often don’t have much to do with the rise of the stars, and seldom have much to do with their fall. However, when they launch their inevitable comeback, that’s when the spotlight swings our way.

And that’s when we see the stars sweat, because we have the power to ­forgive or forget them, to restore them to their old place in the celebrity firmament or keep them languishing in limbo. They disport, we decide.”

Other stars who’ve passed their prime but made good with the help of reality TV shows include Denise Richards (It’s Complicated), whose claim to big-screen fame is that she was once a Bond girl. Ditto for former Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson with her show Girl on the Loose.

Locally, recently fired Idols judge Mara Louw’s heyday was long over when she joined the show.

Says Neveling: “Reality TV has been the platform for many former A-listers to relaunch themselves.

By exposing their personal lives on camera, there is a new-found interest in their careers and it generates more work.

“Former Spice Girl Mel B has become hot property in America thanks to a stint on Dancing with the Stars and her new reality show, It’s A Scary World, now even rivalling the success of (another British export) Victoria Beckham.

“Even locally, it’s no surprise someone like PJ Powers joined the Popstars judging panel. She hasn’t had a major hit in many years, but she’s relevant again because she’s back in the public eye.”

In addition to the revived fame that comes with the territory of a television series, the prospect of lengthening that 15 minutes of fame is a lot more promising on the small screen.

Why take a chance on a ­two-hour film that doesn’t ­guarantee another role and might bomb when the celebrity could sign on for a 12-episode season in a new series with the potential to take off?

“A movie is either a hit or a miss. A weekly television show, on the other hand, builds up a following over weeks, elongating the fame process. When a TV show airs, everyone watches it practically at the same time.

But with films, people ­generally go to a cinema to see a movie when it suits them. Therefore, with TV, celebs reach viewers more instantly,” says Neveling.

Former 1980s bad boys like Charlie Sheen, who stars in Two and a Half Men, and Rob Lowe, who struck it lucky in both The West Wing and Brothers and Sisters, are proof of this.

Adds Aucoin: “We have always admired the battered fighter who picks himself up and climbs back into the ring.
“Even politicians from Lincoln to Churchill to Nixon have understood this.”

So who will be next to jump on the bandwagon?

Neveling has his money on ­Jennifer Aniston and I have mine on Sarah Michelle Gellar.

And both of them already understand the power of TV from their days on Friends and Buffy, respectively.


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