For years, the line between film and TV has faded as movie stars like Glenn Close (Damages) and Claire Danes (Homeland) have found a new home — and gainful employment — on the small screen. But Halle Berry’s decision to headline Extant for CBS could mark a sea change for A-listers who’ve been hesitant to take the plunge. ”It allows the agent of a Russell Crowe to say, ‘Hey, Halle Berry did and she has an Oscar, so why not dip your toes?”’ says one TV studio exec. Just look at this year’s Emmy hopefuls: Film actors including Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright (House of Cards), Matthew McConaughey (True Detective), Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom), and Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel) are expected to garner nods when the nominations are announced on July 10. All were lured to TV by character-driven projects — many of which run only a dozen or so episodes, leaving plenty of time for stars to make films in between seasons. (McConaughey, for instance, squeezed in Detective after completing Dallas Buyers Club.) Then there’s the profile boost of being perceived as a big fish in a (relatively) small pond. ”I think the fact that Matthew did True Detective helped him win his Oscar,” opines one talent agent. ”Doing that show put him back on the map in such a big way.”
TV networks are also willing to cater to talent in ways that blockbuster movies might not. CBS would have shot Extant anywhere other than Los Angeles to save money — if it weren’t so important to Berry that she stick close to home. Now if her two kids want to see mommy, they can just take a short drive to her set in Culver City, Calif. (L.A. traffic permitting.) The money doesn’t hurt either. ”I hear over and over that unless it’s a gigantic blockbuster movie, there’s no money in features,” says the studio exec. ”There are two types of movies: the big franchises and the little indie films that people do almost for free.”
So what’s stopping the likes of Demi Moore, Hilary Swank, and Ethan Hawke from following in Berry’s footsteps? Fear, no doubt, still plays a significant role. For every True Detective, there are failures such as Luck with Dustin Hoffman and The Crazy Ones with Robin Williams. And though a whole new wave of film stars will show up on broadcast this fall (welcome, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, and Octavia Spencer!), it’s not like every feature actor is guaranteed an offer. ”[TV] is still in the business of creating new stars and reinventing them,” reminds ABC’s head of casting, Keli Lee.
Still, the days of a big-screen actor shame-spiraling because he or she booked a series-regular gig on cable are long gone. ”You no longer have to be brave to be on TV,” says FX Networks CEO John Landgraf, who was among the first to shake up conventions by casting Glenn Close on The Shield and later Damages — and who has turned American Horror Story into a repertory company of film talents like Jessica Lange and Angela Bassett. ”There’s no stigma associated with it.” So come on in, movie actors. The water’s great.