Actors move from silver screen to prime time
By LaTrina White
(CNN) -- This fall movie star junkies, who usually get their big name fix after chalking up $8 and struggling to hear over a theater full of popcorn-munching neighbors, can stay home and see some of their favorite film actors.
Many screen actors are making the switch to TV, and they aren't no-names, either.
Academy Award winner and Oscar hostess Whoopi Goldberg broadens her career with her first self-titled show, in which she plays Mavis Rae, a wisecracking singer-turned-hotel owner. Blockbuster star James Caan will lead the new NBC drama "Las Vegas."
They're not alone. Nearly a dozen movie actors will star in new sitcoms and dramas.
"The trend toward feature stars heading into TV is cyclical," said Michael Schneider, Variety's TV editor.
"It seems like every other year there's another boom of movie stars dabbling in TV. The walls between film and TV have really broken down in the past five years."
Other actors making the jump into television include Alicia Silverstone, who made a name for herself in "Clueless," and Oscar-nominee Ryan O'Neal, who starred in "Love Story" and "Paper Moon." Joe Mantegna, Randy Quaid and Mary Steenburgen also will have shows this season.
According to Schneider, the pay isn't shabby, either, but making the move into TV isn't always viewed as positive.
"Despite the loads of money that can be made in TV, it's still seen somewhat as a step down for mega movie stars -- which is why you won't see J. Lo or Tom Cruise doing a TV series anytime soon," Schneider said.
"But it's a great way to re-expose yourself to the world if your film career has hit a slump."
Schneider said the crossover benefits the actors and the networks alike.
"It's steady work," Schneider said. "The upside is tremendous [if a show makes it into syndication]. There's still time to do a feature or two on the side, and you get to live in one place for most of the year -- a plus for stars who want to spend more time with their family."
Silverstone's publicist said it's the quality of work and not the medium that lures actors.
"If the role is solid and well-written, then it's appealing whether it's a feature or a TV series," Elizabeth Much said.
"For many actors, the regularity of the work in one place is also very appealing, especially for those who have families."
And the networks have the marketing benefit of a star with established name recognition, she said.
Many crossover stars will have the chance to work with storylines that play differently over a season of shows rather than a single two-hour movie.
Silverstone and O'Neal team up in "Miss Match," NBC's one-hour "dramedy."
Silverstone plays matchmaking divorce attorney Kate Fox and O'Neal plays her father in a show based on the true story of a New York lawyer who juggled law and love.
"Whoopi" is bound to push the envelope. Goldberg's character resembles a black and female version of Archie Bunker, and she has the curmudgeon, nicotine-addiction traits nailed.
Television is not new to her, having starred in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and the short-lived CBS comedy "Bagdad Cafe [sic]." She's dabbled in most media and is one of the few artists to win an Oscar, Tony, Grammy, Golden Globe and Emmy.
"The diversity of Whoopi's career is unlike virtually any other performer in the business," said Brad Cafarelli, her publicist.
"I do believe people realized a long time ago that it would be impossible to pigeonhole or classify her in any one category."
During a recent Reuters interview, Whoopi said her age and few movie selections were contributing factors to crossing over.
"I'm a little bit older now, and I like the idea of being in a steady gig," she said. "There's not a lot of offers coming my way, either. You get into that awkward stage of late 40s, and things slow down."
Been there, done that
While the crossover is deep this fall, it is not different. A handful of other actors have made the transition in recent years with critical acclaim.
"The old distinctions between television and film work have been blurred with the expansion of cable outlets and the dumbing-down of the film business, which is so focused on opening-weekend numbers and appealing to youthful moviegoers, said Cynthia Littleton, deputy editor of The Hollywood Reporter.
"Actors, especially older actors, gravitate to the quality of the material."
Martin Sheen is not the president, but he's played one on TV since the fall of 1999 on NBC's "West Wing."
He made his switch after starring in "Apocalypse Now" and "Wall Street." He appeared in "Cadence" with his son Charlie, who took over the role of Michael Flaherty in ABC's "Spin City" after Michael J. Fox's departure in 2000. The show was canceled in 2002.
Crossing over can even prove successful for some actors who are honored for their work.
Kiefer Sutherland won the Golden Globe's best actor award in 2001 for his role as federal agent Jack Bauer on the Fox network's "24," a unique drama in which the entire season takes place in one day.
And small screen success and schedules do not preclude a return to feature film work. Networks are generally accommodating, said Much, of Much and House public relations in Los Angeles.
"That situation is handled gingerly by agents who negotiate with both projects to make it happen," she said.
Like Michael J. Fox's dual roles in TV's "Family Ties" and "Back to the Future" films, "feature film success can only enhance the TV show that the actor is on," Much said.