Archive for March, 2011
I’m sorry I’ve been absent this past week (and will continue to be absent this upcoming week.) I’ve been working 18-hour days as a Production Assistant on a CW pilot entitled, Cooper and Stone. Hopefully it will get on the air as it is a really fun show set in Chicago! But while I have a free moment I will continue to delve into next season’s pilots.
SMASH- Capitalizing on the success of Glee, this show, produced by Steven Spielberg and the writers of the Hairspray musical, and written by acclaimed playwright Theresa Rebeck, is about a bunch of characters trying to put a Marilyn Monroe musical on Broadway. It stars Will and Grace’s Debra Messing (ok…), Anjelica Huston (she’s legit, though I fear her role will be similar to Cher’s in Burlesque) and American Idol superstar (that was a joke) Katherine McPhee. The Hairspray guys will provide the show with original music, and I’m sure there will be lots of Glee-style merchandising tie-ins. I think that there are frankly too many talented people behind this project for it to fail miserably. And I like Broadway musicals so I’ll probably give this show a chance.
REM- This show, created by Kyle Killen of the short-lived, but critically acclaimed FOX series, Lone Star, and 24’s Howard Gordon is described as an “Inception-style thriller centering on a cop who wakes up after an accident to find he is living in two different realities.” It does not surprise me that studios are trying to capitalize on the public’s obsession with the “mind-fuck” genre, and I was pleased to find that Lucius Malfoy himself, Jason Issacs, was cast as the lead. But then I was less excited that Fez (Wilmer Valderrama) was cast as the other lead. But then I was excited again that B.D. Wong (Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles) is also in the pilot. David Slade (Twilight: Eclipse) is directing, which boosts its credibility. Not that I’m giving Twilight credibility, I am merely stating that when any director comes off of a movie that has made $300 million, he can pretty much choose to do whatever he wants. I will probably give this show a shot.
WONDER WOMAN- This is perhaps one of the most high-profile pilots of the new season for numerous reasons. One, Wonder Woman is one of the best-known comic book characters who has yet to recently appear in a movie. She is still a moneymaking symbol of female empowerment, appearing on t-shirts, lunchboxes and other merchandise, and has much more name recognition than heroes like Daredevil and Ghost Rider. The Matrix producer, Joel Silver, tried for years to make a Wonder Woman movie, hiring at least five writers, Joss Whedon among them, to write a draft , but nothing ever made it past that stage. This EW article explains in detail the reasons why. But now, NBC has signed off on a David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, The Practice, Boston Public) penned script and is shooting a pilot. Different from the Lynda Carter starring, campy 70s TV show, this script finds Wonder Woman/Diana Prince not only as a crime fighter in LA, complete with invisible jet and lasso of truth (which sounds silly as I’m typing the words), but also as a successful cosmetic company exec trying to balance all the different elements of her life. I’ve spoken to some insiders who’ve read the script and they have said it was absurd and terrible, but I am definitely going to give it a shot. Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights) has already been cast as the titular star, along with Austin Powers’ (!!!!) own Elizabeth Hurley and Cary Elwes (Robin Hood: Men in Tights, The Princess Bride, Saw).
17TH PRECINCT- The logline for this sounds extremely silly—“Sci-fi drama set in the fictional town of Excelsior, where magic and supernatural elements rule over science”—however it has Battlestar Galactica creator Ron Moore behind it, and he’s done more great things with the sci-fi genre as anyone around. So while I might not watch this show, I’m sure it has promise.
RECONSTRUCTION- This show, that I doubt will make it to air, is a period Western which revolves around a solider from the Civil War who settles into a Missouri town during the Reconstruction period. This is an intruiging premise, and I’m glad NBC is investing money into a historical drama, but this show seems like it’s a better fit for cable where it can be content with a smaller audience. If even Deadwood can get cancelled on HBO though, I just don’t’ see this show going anywhere.
PLAYBOY- This show—which happened to be shot in Chicago, and stopped traffic because for two weeks a bunch of “bunnies” were walking around street sets—is another high-profile pilot due to its subject matter. It is a historical drama set at the famed Playboy Club in Chicago in 1963. Think Mad Men with more sex, but with network TV standards (like no nudity). (*UPDATE. Apparently there will be nudity. ) Can you figure out what that means? Me neither, but it stars Amber Heard (Drive Angry, Pineapple Express) and promises to be sexy, like Playboy. The director, Alan Taylor, actually did a lot of work on Mad Men, so that’s good. I’ll check it out. What the hell.
A MANN’S WORLD- Created by Michael Patrick King (Sex in the City) and starring Don Johnson (Miami Vice), this show revolves around a straight Beverly Hills hairdresser in his fifties trying to stay relevant. Much like Don Johnson is. Nothing about this show interests me. But it will be interesting to see how Michael Patrick King writes for non-women/non-gays.
GRIMM- This show, produced by Sean Hayes (the new Three Stooges’ Larry) is another dark, fairy tale show much like Once Upon a Time, but this one happens to also be a cop drama (really) set in a world where characters created by the Brothers Grimm (Cinderella, The Frog Prince, Hansel and Gretel) exist, and a detective who “starts to see humans as beast/animals discovers he has a mandate to protect ‘humans’ from the beasts.” This just doesn’t seem up my alley. And the creators/writers aren’t anyone I care about. So I’ll probably miss this one.
ARE YOU THERE VODKA? IT’S ME, CHELSEA- This adaptation of Chelsea Handler’s book stars Laura Prepon (That 70s Show) as the titular star, an “alcohol loving” (drunk-ass), “oversexed” (slutty), “waitress” (waitress). I don’t like Chelsea Handler, because I never laugh when I watch her show, and I thought her gig as VMA host was a bust, but apparently women love her, and her “proud to be a drunk-ass slut” ways. I think this show will be successful, but I will probably not watch.
There are a few more I have to write about, but I have to go to sleep as I have to be on set at 5:30 AM tomorrow.
The following are some of the pilots in contention at CBS:
RINGER– This is Sarah Michelle Gellar’s first series gig since Buffy so one would think it has to be pretty strong. It also has director Richard Shepard (The Matador) behind it. In the show SMG plays a woman hiding from the mob by pretending to be her rich sister, but then she learns her sister is also in pretty deep with the wrong guys. Ioan Gruffudd (Mr. Fantastic in Fantastic 4) also stars. CBS typically deals with crime procedurals (CSI, Without a Trace) but with the success of The Good Wife it seems they are actually serious about investing in more serial dramas, with ongoing story lines.
PERSON OF INTEREST- This I pronounce “promising” because it has Chris Nolan’s brother Jonathan writing the script and producing with TV genius J.J. Abrams. The show, starring Jesus himself—Jim Cavizel—is a crime drama (of course it is, CBS) about an ex-CIA agent who every thinks is dead, teaming up with a reclusive billionaire (Lost’s Michael Emerson) to prevent crimes in NYC. Also starring is Taraji P. Henson better known as Tyler Perry’s girl who can “do bad all by herself,” or Jaden’s mom in The Karate Kid. Abrams’s track record on TV is better with serialized dramas (Alias, Fringe, Lost) than it is with more episodic shows (Undercovers) so it will be interesting to see what this show leans towards. Also, will the show stay firmly rooted in reality or will it explore more fantastical elements? Either way, the Nolan/Abrams combo is one that will get me to at least watch the premiere.
HOW TO BE A GENTLEMAN- This show is a buddy comedy written, produced and stars It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s priest turned homeless crackhead CRICKET as an uptight columnist who navigates bachelorhood with friend/trainer…JOHNNY DRAMA! Yes, Johnny Drama actually made it to network television. Also starring in this show is Murray from Flight of the Concords (easily the best part of anything he’s even been in) and Dave Foley, a very underrated comedic actor, who has said that he has so much child support and alimony to pay to his crazy ex-wife that he is doing almost anything that he is offered. With this cast, silly premise aside, I’m definitely on board.
VINCE UNCENSORED– I would completely ignore this show except Conan O’Brien is an executive producer. Michael Chiklis (The Shield and the likely soon to be cancelled, given Julie Benz is also lined up for another pilot, No Ordinary Family) stars as a father who takes a more “honest approach to life” after going through a life-altering experience. Chiklis hasn’t done an outward sitcom since being the titular star of the cancelled 2000 sitcom, Daddio, but if Conan thinks he can pull it off, so do I. Also, Kelsey Grammar (Frasier) will be directing the pilot, so that’s…cool… I guess.
TWO BROKE GIRLS- Starring 40 Year Old Virgin’s Kat Dennings (also, the picture on the right) in her first regular TV role, this show and created by Sex in the City’s Michael Patrick King and comedian Whitney Cummings, this show revolves around two…broke…girls who live in Brooklyn and chase their dreams. I really like Kat Dennings and while I’m not a fan of Sex in the City it clearly is a show with merit. Whitney Cummings I do know is a very dirty comedian with an acerbic wit, so that’s a plus. While I would probably not watch this show, I’m sure some would.
UNTITLED SUSANNAH GRANT PROJECT- Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) and Julie Benz (Dexter) star in this drama about a hyper-competitive surgeon (Wilson) who’s ex-wife dies and starts teaching him lessons about life from…the afterlife. Benz plays his sister, a single mom with a big heart. Sound familiar? While the great Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) is directing a script from Erin Brockovich writer Susannah Grant, this concept just seems a bit too cheesy for me. Sounds like that terrible Hilary Swank movie, P.S. I Love You, mixed with the Ghost Whisperer. Patrick Wilson does have a nice film career going (he just appeared in big studio movies ike The A-Team, Morning Glory, and The Switch) , but like what’s turning out to be a lot of movie stars this season, he’s probably after the steady paycheck and work schedule that television offers.
UNTITLED REDLICH & BELLUCCI– This looks like typical CBS shlock to me. A cop show about a female detective who “possesses the special ability to remember everything.” That just doesn’t seem interesting to me, especially because it seems like detectives on CSI and Law & Order seem to remember every little thing anyway. “WAIT! Four days ago that cab driver we spoke to mentioned that he had to go pick up salmon at the LaSalle Market on the Lower East Side. But LaSalle Market is actually on the Upper East Side! And salmon’s not in season in October! And that pink mark on his upper lip looked traces of salmon! So either he already ate salmon, which means that he would have no need to get more, or he’s the murderer because there were pink specks left on the 1984 Louisville Slugger bat in the victim’s aunt’s apartment!”
HAIL MARY– Starring Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting) as a suburban mom in Atlanta who partners with young black actor Brandon T. Jackson (Tropic Thunder) to solve crimes. Maybe they’ll share a dynamic similar to the one between Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise Parker) and Conrad (Romany Malco) on the first few seasons of Weeds. I put this in the NOPE pile because I just think this is kind of a silly concept and I’m sick of buddy-cop comedy/dramas. It does have Joel Silver (Die Hard, The Matrix) producing it, but it also has Brad Silberling (Land of the Lost) directing it.
UNTITLED ROB SCHNEIDER PROJECT- This is Deuce Bigelow’s first major TV gig since he starred in 1996’s one and done’s Men Behaving Badly. I wouldn’t say he has a film career so much as he’s been lucky that Adam Sandler puts him in all of his hit movies. This series, which was co-written by Schneider as well is somewhat autobiographical as it centers around a man who has just married into a very close Mexican-American family. (I think that’s his wife in the picture on the right.) Apparently Schneider is married to a hot Latina because playing his wife is Nadine Velazquez, who also plays another Jewish shmuck’s (Nick Kroll) wife on The League and was the object of Randy’s (Ethan Suplee) affection in My Name is Earl. What’s with all these beautiful Latina women being married to old/not attractive shmucks on TV? (Sophia Vergara, I’m looking at you!) I guess if they wanted to partner with sexy Latina men they’d have to star in Univision’s telenovela, Amarte Es Mi Pecado (Loving is my sin). I put this in the nope pile because I simply do not care for Rob Schneider. Some people might, and maybe this show will get on TV, but I feel like if you polled 1000 people, at least 650 would say they Rob Schneider sucks. I don’t think he’s necessarily unfunny. He does some silly characters in the previously mentioned Sandler flicks, but I just wouldn’t go out of my way to watch him. In fact, I would probably go out of my way not to watch him. Like if that show is ever on TV, I would probably go into another room. If he was on TV in that room, I would probably kill myself.
Whether you knew it or not, we are smack dab in the middle of pilot season right now. Pilot season occurs from January-April every year and is the time when new shows for the fall are being strategically planned out by networks. What is a pilot? A pilot is a single episode that typically serves as the series premiere of a television show. It is one of the early stages in the development of a television series. Typically the development process begins when a writer or producer pitches an idea to the networks. If the idea gets a green light, the network will commission a script to be written by the series creator or a well-known writer. Out of the 300 or so pitches that are given, about 50 are given commissioned script offers and out of those around 10-20 are given money to produce an actual pilot. The pilot must set the stage for the entire series by introducing characters, a tone, the concept, and a sample story line. Think of a pilot therefore as a testing ground to see if the series has potential.
In the next couple posts I will discuss the most/least promising pilots for each network based on their creators, concepts and casting.
Charlie’s Angels– This is a reboot of the popular 70s series and Diaz/Barrymore/Liu flick, taking place in Miami. Thankfully there is no subtitle like, “Fuller Throttle.” This show is promising to me because the concept is a no-brainer—3 hot chicks go on missions/kick ass and the creative team behind it is Alfred Gough and Miles Millar who created Smallville, a great show near and dear to my heart. The angels have been cast with Minka Kelly being the only real name of the bunch, but after checking out the first released photo, it seems they all have the necessary requirements to fulfill the roles. Robert Wagner (Dr. Evil’s Number 2) is providing the voice of Charlie, with Shia LaBeouf’s annoying Mexican friend from Transformers 2 taking on the role of Bosley. This bit of casting seems to be the weakest link, but I guess you would be annoying too if you were chased by giant robots and had to listen to Shia and Megan Fox squabble for hours. Overall, if they can get some good story lines and ramp up the sexiness, there’s no reason why this show can’t find an audience.
Pan Am– A sexy soap opera taking place in the 60s jet-age about a group of pilots/stewardesses (I guess we call them flight attendants now) working at the iconic Pan Am Airways. Think that sequence in Catch Me If You Can. The premise is interesting, and it stars Christina Ricci in her first network television role, which to me gives it a plus. Also a plus is that Tommy Schlamme (Aaron Sorkin’s right hand man who worked on SportsNight, West Wing etc.) is producing/directing. Period shows are expensive for networks to produce, that’s why they mostly go to cable, but lots of networks are investing in period pieces this year (as I’ll get to later) so that gives it more of a shot of making it to series. If this series is more Mad Men than that god-awful Gwyneth Paltrow flight-comedy View From the Top, it has got a shot.
Once Upon A Time- Capitalizing on the recent obsession with updating fairy tale stories (which are public domain) by making them darker, this show is about Anna (House’s Jennifer Morrison), who is drawn into a town where the magic and mystery of fairy tales may be real and hold the key to unlocking the mysteries of her troubled past. Characters include the Evil Queen, Snow White (Big Love’s Ginnifer Goodwin), Rumpelstilskin (The World Is Not Enough’s Robert Carlyle), Jiminy Cricket, Prince Charming, etc. This show is promising because it has a good cast and an interesting concept, but if it cannot set the right tone and if the writing is weak, I probably won’t watch it. It also must find the right age bracket. If it’s too dark, it loses kids, but if it’s too precious, it loses teens and adults. At least ABC is taking a chance though. One less cop/medical/sexy neighborhood show is a plus.
Damage Control- This Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy) show revolves around Kerry Washington (Ray, The Last King of Scotland) as the legendary Washington D.C. crisis management consultant Judy Smith, or a “fixer” with a dysfunctional staff. Also starring in this show is young black actor Columbus Short, Guillermo Diaz (Half-Baked and Weeds’ Guillermo), and Tony Goldwyn (the voice of Disney’s Tarzan and the director of Zach Braff’s The Last Kiss) as the President. This is promising because it has a diverse cast, and there aren’t enough political shows on TV right now so it might be able to fill a hole. Also, Ms. Rhimes has three other shows on ABC right now so the odds are that she’ll get a fourth.
Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apt. 23- Created by Malcolm in the Middle and American Dad writer Nahnatchka Khan, this comedy revolves around “June (Dreama Walker), an earnest, optimistic girl from the heartland, who is forced to move in with Choe (Breaking Bad’s Krysten Ritter), a sexy, unstable New York City party girl who has the morals of a pirate”. Also starring in the series, as a heightened version of himself (think NPH in Harold in Kumar) is James Van Der Beek. This show shows promise, not only because it’s being directed by Modern Family director Jason Winer, but also because I love Krysten Ritter and the Van Der Beek has successfully poked fun at himself in the past. See: Van Der Memes.
Suburgatory- This show is promising to me because it stars Cheryl Hines, Steve the Pirate (Alan Tudyk) and Clueless’ Jeremy Sisto in a comedy. The show revolves around a New York City teen who moves with her dad into a frightening suburb. This is not a horror show like The Gates, or a soap opera like Desperate Housewives, so I feel like it will probably be more along the lines of The Stepford Wives. Mocking the suburbs (not to be confused with Rocking the Suburbs, which is something only Ben Folds can do), when done well, (see: Weeds) is a ripe source for comedy.
LESS THAN PROMISING:
Untitled Tim Allen Project- This show, created by Tim Allen and 30 Rock’s Jack Burditt revolves around Tim, “fighting for his manhood in a world increasingly dominated by women.” So basically this is kind of Home Improvement 2.0. By the way, I’m a huge fan of Home Improvement 1.0. While Burditt no doubt is a great writer, and Tim is certainly a TV star, who has spurned offers to get back to television every year since Home Improvement was cancelled, I just feel like it’s hard for lightning to strike twice. Actors who leave a hit show and then return to television later are successful when they can reinvent themselves a bit (see: Ted Danson, Ray Romano, Matt LeBlanc on Episodes), not when they play the same type of character, even if that character was beloved (see: Michael Richards, Kelsey Grammar on his last two failures). Although there are always exceptions and I think American does love Tim Allen, he is much older now and doesn’t have the attention of the young adults. (You don’t see his face in Toy Story 3). If this show is a sitcom and Tim Allen plays a father who makes sexist jokes, I don’t see it making it. But if the show is something different and the writing is really clever, it’s got a shot.
Partners. This show lost me at the logline which reads: “Cop drama centered on two female police detectives, Mattie and Jess, who also secretly happen to be half-sisters, which explains their intense loyalty to one another.” OH! That’s the twist. They’re HALF-SISTERS! Now you have my attention! Why they have to keep it a secret I can’t fathom. It’s one thing if one was a criminal and the other was a cop and they were half-sisters, but they’re on the same team. Plus, I don’t know what kind of drama begets from the complexity that is the half-sister relationship. The cast is filled with no-names and the team behind it isn’t too compelling. I doubt this makes it to series.
Work It- The official description reads: Two out-of-work car salesmen, Angel and Lee, realize that in order to find employment again, they’ll need to dress as women to land jobs as pharmaceutical reps – inadvertently making them better men, husbands and fathers. So basically Bosom Buddies meets Tootsie meets Mrs. Doubtfire meets every cross-dressing movie ever. There’s no one worth mentioning behind this pilot, and god knows how they can stretch this half-assed tired idea over 22 episodes. Expect lots of period jokes, sexist humor, guys hitting on “guys,” high voices, and stupid wigs.
Poe- A show featuring Edgar Allan Poe as the world’s first detective, using unconventional methods to investigate dark mysteries in 1840s Boston. Like Sherlock Holmes, but with Edgar Allen Poe. Why didn’t I think of that? Because it’s a crazy idea that seems to make as much sense as Abraham Lincoln being a vampire hunter. What? That’s going to be a movie? Coincidentally this is the second (?!) project this season to feature Edgar Allen Poe as an action hero. John Cusak is also playing him in The Raven, a thriller directed by Ninja Assassin’s James McTeigue. The creators and the cast of the series are no names (which isn’t a knock against it, but doesn’t help it either). All in all this sounds so crazy…it just might work! (But I doubt it will.)
STAY TUNED FOR UPDATES ON THE PILOTS ON THE OTHER MAJOR NETWORKS!
I just watched Mars Attacks for the first time and although I had not heard good things about it, I was entirely disappointed given the cast. Every name that came up in the opening credits was a superstar—Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Benning, Pierce Brosnan, Michael J. Fox, Sarah Jessica Parker, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Tom friggin Jones (as in “What’s New Pussycat?”), football legend Jim Brown, and Natalie Portman!
But for me, the biggest shock of the movie was seeing Jack Black play a bit part as a trigger happy, military idiot—basically his character within the “movie” Tropic Thunder. It’s always fun to see current movie stars in older movies before they were famous. Especially if their part is exceedingly tiny or differs from the character type is different than what usually play.
Here are some of my favorite “Before They Were Stars” highlights:
Jon Hamm as TV Repair Guy in The Sarah Silverman Program. I’ve mentioned this before in a previous post but it makes my list not only because in the short scene Sarah Silverman rejects an offer to kiss Mr. Hamm and as we all know now, that that is something one would never ever think of doing, but also because in the scene he is wearing a patch on his shirt that says ‘Eating all the pussy since ’93’. Even way back in 2007 Jon Hamm was hilarious.
Adrien Brody and Matthew McConaughey in Angels in the Outfield. That’s a double whammy. I’ve also mentioned this fact before but it’s worth noting again that Tony Danza was the star of that movie.
Scarlett Johansson as Molly Pruit in Home Alone 3. In this movie the perennial Sexiest Woman Alive candidate played the lead’s older nagging sister. This makes my list because from watching the movie it is almost impossible to suspect that she was destined to become Woody Allen’s muse and frequent Maxim cover girl and because for some reason Roger Ebert gave this movie three out of four stars and called it “fresh, very funny, and better than the first two”. Wow.
Gwenyth Paltrow in Hook. This makes the list because pretty much all the future Oscar winner and Glee guest star says in this movie is, “PETER!” Everybody starts somewhere.
Val Kilmer as Nick Rivers in Top Secret. I guess this doesn’t count because Val was the star of this movie, but the role he plays is so different from any future role. This Zucker Brothers film introduced the world to Val Kilmer as a sexy, charismatic, captivating, hilarious actor who was capable of sincerely delivering even the most ridiculous dialogue such as, “Listen to me Hillary. I’m not the first guy who fell in love with a woman that he met at a restaurant who turned out to be the daughter of a kidnapped scientist only to lose her to her childhood lover who she last saw on a deserted island who then turned out fifteen years later to be the leader of the French underground.” It’s a damn shame that Kilmer has shied away from comedies for the most part. I say for the most part because he was great in Real Genius, MacGruber, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, and that one episode of Entourage where he played the pot dealing Sherpa.
Jackie Chan in All in the Family. Not to be confused with the television program, this All in the Family was a Hong Kong porno he made in 1975. Jaden, let Jackie teach you karate, but that’s it!
Amy Adams in Cruel Intentions 2. This makes the list because Ms. Adams is a twice Oscar nominated wholesome actress respected for her smart career choices (Leap Year not withstanding) and here she is in this piece of straight to DVD garbage. It also makes the list because she inhabited the sexy, devilish, conniving Sarah Michelle Geller role which I suppose shows her range, because I cannot use any of those adjectives to describe her characters in Julie and Julia and Enchanted.
Christian Bale in Newsies. This one is no secret, but it’s fun to see Batman/Dicky/Patrick Bateman/John Connor sing and dance for the High School Musical director about selling papers for a quarta’ and seizing the day.
Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone. This Oscar nominee and future X-Men: First Class star was on TBS’ The Bill Engvall Show. ‘Nuff said.
As I was watching the Oscars last week I realized that they didn’t feature a single black male presenter and I thought to myself—where are the young, black actors in Hollywood? Coincidentally today I read that Samuel L. Jackson feels the same way as he wrote a angry letter (probably in all caps because that’s how he talks) to the LA Times complaining about discrimination in Hollywood. Is there discrimination against young black people in Hollywood? Let’s delve into this issue. In Hollywood there are three tiers of famous, black, bankable actors.
There’s the 50-60s older tier: Morgan Freeman, Samuel L. Jackson, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Glover, and Forest Whitaker. These guys can star in movies, but at their age you have to count on their co-stars or the franchise they’re tied to (i.e. The Matrix, The Avengers, Batman) to actually bring in an audience.
Then you have the 30-40 year old A group. These are proven super stars that have been around a while: Will Smith, Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx, Chris Rock (though I would count him as the least bankable of the bunch), Chris Tucker and Denzel Washington.
Then you have the 30-40 year old B Group. These are great actors who can carry a movie, but are not particularly bankable so they gravitate mostly to television: Don Cheadle, Terrence Howard, Chiwetel Eijofor, Cedric the Entertainer, Taye Diggs, Mos Def, Omar Epps, Mekhi Pfeiffer, Derek Luke, Tracy Morgan, Common and Idris Elba.
Who is in the all important 20-30 year old up and comers ready to break out and be stars for the next ten years? Anthony Mackie, Brandon T. Jackson, Columbus Short, Bow Wow. Maybe Donald Glover or Jay Pharoah.
<20 Group: Jaden and Willow Smith.
Why are there so few 20-30 year old up and comers? And why are most of them on television? Why are black actors forced to either go there or take roles in smaller films? Anthony Mackie (The Adjustment Bureau, The Hurt Locker) recently spoke to the LA Times saying, “Orlando Bloom was given 15 opportunities after ‘Lord of the Rings.’ Black men are given no opportunities.” I think he has a point. After Jeremy Renner’s performance in The Hurt Locker, he got The Avengers, Mission Impossible 4, a high profile Hansel and Gretel movie (don’t ask), and was in talks for several other major franchises. Mackie, who also had an incredible performance in The Hurt Locker and in many other films before it, has his biggest billing as the 3rd lead in The Adjustment Bureau. The biggest movies he is attached to are Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Real Steel (a Hugh Jackman robot fighting movie), neither in which he is the star. This man has chops to spare and is loaded with charisma. Why isn’t he attached to some major comic-book movie yet? Or headlining a drama? Brandon T. Jackson was fantastic in Tropic Thunder (Alpa Chino), so why is he relegated to doing Big Momma’s House 3? Columbus Short, a fine young actor from Stomp the Yard was just in The Losers and Death at a Funeral, so why is his next movie co-starring Wilmer Valderrama?
I think part of the problem is that because Tyler Perry has set up such a successful niche market for “black-appeal movies,” studios are basically content to pent all the black actors there. Since they’ve cut down on the number of movies they make anyway, rather than make multiple movies with black leads, they just put every black actor out there (plus Loretta Devine) into the same movie, such as Soul Plane, Death at a Funeral, Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, Lottery Ticket, The Cookout, or Roll Bounce. Does every movie with a black male lead that’s not one of the superstars have to also have an all-black cast? Why do movies with black people have to be about black issues?
The L.A. Times says that studio executives will privately say they’re simply reacting to the marketplace realities when it comes to casting younger black actors in lead roles of mainstream films but the actors don’t buy it. Mackie says, “They say there’s not an audience for black stars, but that’s because you’re not feeding [audiences] them.” I happen to agree with Mackie. How are black actors to become stars if mainstream audiences never see them? Tyler Perry and the other all-black cast movies aren’t marketed to mainstream audiences so they never get a chance to build up an affinity for a Columbus Short or a Derek Luke. Jamie Foxx got to be in mainstream movies like Any Given Sunday, and Collateral so when Ray hit, audiences were ready to boost him to superstardom.
To prove that young black actors can be marketable I think studios need to start tying them to properties with a built in audience, like a comic-book movie or a movie based on a board game, or a rebooted franchise. Why couldn’t the hilarious kid from Role Models, Bobb’e J. Thompson, get his own Home Alone franchise? I would see that movie. Or why not give Tracy Morgan a family comedy like a Night at the Museum. I know I would love to see Tray running away from dinosaurs. In dramas or action movies, where I suppose is where the real problem lies, why not look past Channing Tatum, Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy), Alex Pfyeffer (I Am Number Four), and Shia Labeouf, and cast a no-name black actor for your franchise? People didn’t see Tron or I Am Number Four because of those leads. Who’s to say that a black actor in those movies couldn’t give them the same box-office? Give Don Cheadle his War Machine spin-off and see if people go. People aren’t going to see Captain America for Chris Evans. They are going because they love the character. Movie stars have crossover appeal, and if young black actors are stuck on BET and in Tyler Perry movies the mainstream public will never get to know them.
If Barack Obama can be president and Will Smith can be the number one movie star in the world and Kobe rocks everything all the time, I think it’s safe to say that American feels perfectly comfortable with black male actors. Studios say that audiences dictate the markets, but studios control the markets. People will see what they put out simply because it’s out there. Even though business-Hollywood is mostly white, they have to remember that movies reflect our times and having a lily-white Oscars is evidence that Hollywood is way behind. So get on it, because in 20 years when Denzel and Eddie aren’t making movies anymore there won’t be anyone to take their place.
As I’ve written about in the past, there’s a trend happening in Hollywood in converting popular cartoons into live-action Hollywood flicks. I have discovered upon further observation, a disturbing trend within this trend: casting semi-handsome, bland TV actors in major roles in these films. Let’s go through the evidence.
Alvin and the Chipmunks– Starring My Name is Earl’s Jason Lee.
Alvin and the Chipmunks 2: The Squeakquel- Starring Chuck’s Zachary Levi.
Marmaduke- Starring Pushing Daisies’ Lee Pace.
Yogi Bear- Starring Ed’s Tom Cavanaugh.
The Smurfs- Starring Neil Patrick Harris (not as bland, but still TV actor).
Garfield (1+2)- Starring Inside Schwartz’s/Welcome to the Kellys Breckin Meyer. (Ok Breckin Meyer was primarily a film star. But now he’s only on TV and he’s super bland.)
Underdog- Starring My Name is Earl’s Jason Lee (as the voice of Underdog) and According to Jim’s Jim Belushi.
What is the cause of this trend? First, real movie stars would never star in these pieces of crap. Second, TV actors are always looking to transition into films and probably collect a hefty payday for appearing in these types of flicks. Also, these movies are trying to appeal to a mass audience and don’t want to offend anybody, so they cast people who Moms wouldn’t mind staring at for an hour and a half. Where to find these types of actors? Television! Male TV actors are typically image-less, handsome and extremely non-threatening and bland. For examples, look no further than any episode of Ugly Betty, Drop Dead Diva, House, CSI, NCIS, or Grey’s Anatomy, or any show on CBS, TNT, USA, and ABC Family. Movie stars tend to have distinguished, unique looks (See: Gerard Butler, Leo DiCaprio, Will Smith, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, Aaron Eckhart, Nicholas Cage, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Robert Pattinson etc.) So often in TV a small part just requires an actor to be handsome so casting agents go to modeling agencies to find people who fit the bill and models tend to all be super hot guys who all look alike. A lead TV role goes to someone who is handsome and charming but not super hot (Zach Braff, Josh Radnor, people I listed above). My theory is that if you’re really that super handsome/hot you will go into modeling because it doesn’t require you to do anything but be really good looking, but if you’re simply handsome/charming you go into acting because you get to exploit your handsomeness and also do something.
Of course lots of movie stars got their starts with television (Clooney, Depp, Hanks, Smith, Washington etc.) but that’s because they were all just handsome/charming at one point, and once their show ended, they successfully changed their looks significantly to be able to go across genres and do different types of movies and therefore stay in movies. They also mostly happened to get one big lead movie role that turned into a huge hit. Smith had Independence Day, Hanks had Splash, Depp had Edward Scissorhands, Washington had Glory which won him an Oscar, Clooney actually never had that huge hit. He’s an exception. He is still a movie star despite the fact that he does smaller “important” fare and his only big box office successes have been the Ocean’s Eleven films.
So that’s the trend. Comedy stars are exceptions because they either look super weird (Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell, Zach Gal, Jack Black) or look super “straight” so it’s funny that they’re acting so zany (Steve Martin, Steve Carell, Ed Helms, Leslie Nielsen etc.)
When they inevitably make a Magilla Gorilla, (I chose that because Purim’s coming around the bend) Mighty Mouse, Family Circus, Jetsons, Woody Woodpecker, Carmen Sandiego (for some reason I feel like that actually is in the works), or She-Ra Princess of Power movie here’s a list of actors you should look into: Jon Cryer, Matthew Perry, Matthew Morrison (if you’re doing a Magilla Gorilla musical), Alex O’Loughlin, anyone on Perfect Couples, that guy on Cougar Town, Nathan Fillion, David Boreanaz, Jim Parsons, Eric McKormack, or Mark Harmon. DO NOT HIRE CHARLIE SHEEN. I REPEAT. DO NOT HIRE CHARLIE SHEEN.