Big-time movie actresses have been defecting to television for years now for one reason: because it offers juicier female roles. See: Glenn Close, Mary Louise Parker, Holly Hunter, Toni Collette, Kyra Sedgwick, Sally Field, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kathy Bates, Sissy Spacek, and, in the near future, Laura Linney (Showtime’s The Big C, premiering next month) and Diane Keaton (HBO’s Tilda, now in the pilot stages). The exodus first began with Sedgwick, Close, and Hunter thanks to sheer mathematics: An astronomical increase in original series on cable meant more roles, period, so chances were some of them would be interesting women. And established actresses, bored with the limited girlfriend-mom-grandma career trajectory in movies, gravitated to the antiheroines — drug-dealing moms, boozing cops, schizophrenics — that TV scripts were featuring. For actresses, especially those of a certain age (i.e. those lost in mom/grandma territory), the multi-dimensional ladies populating the small screen represented salvation. Essentially, Glenn Close signing on to star in Damages was as much about movies ignoring and insulting women for too long as it was about TV gaining respect as a medium.
Now that HBO has picked up the Dustin Hoffman pilot Luck to become a series, however, the current has officially shifted: Cable TV has arrived as a destination for the highest-caliber male actors as well. Yes, plenty of other movie actors have already crossed over: Bill Paxton, Laurence Fishburne, Alec Baldwin, Harvey Keitel, Gabriel Byrne, Forest Whitaker, Jon Voight (in Fox’s upcoming drama Lonestar). But it’s hard to imagine a more respected movie star than Hoffman. We’re talking The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, All the President’s Men, Kramer vs. Kramer, Tootsie, Rain Man. That Hoffman’s first TV series regular role is on this particular project — a horse-racing drama created by Deadwood‘s David Milch, with Dennis Farina, Jason Gedrick, and Nick Nolte also in the cast — only reinforces the fact that TV now offers projects on par with film. The only difference is whether a story is told in parts over time or in one two-hour chunk.
By declaring Hoffman the watershed example, we mean no slight to the major actresses who pioneered the foray into TV. They probably helped make the small screen safe for actors who don’t want to lose their movie-star cred — especially Close, who seems the closest female equivalent to Hoffman. (That is, until Keaton showed up.) The ladies were simply forced to go first because film roles for them were so scarce. And it’s probably no coincidence that Hoffman and the other men who’ve gravitated toward TV are, well, also of a certain age — ageism is just as prevalent as sexism on the big screen.
But what do you think, Pop Watchers? Is Hoffman’s move to TV a sign that the small screen has arrived? Or are there other male stars you think could vie for the title of Most Respected Actor to Come to TV?