Ever since Oscar winners realized that the “stigma” about appearing on television didn’t exist anymore, TV has been filled with success stories about A-listers taking their talents to the small screen. Just ask Matthew McConaughey, Jon Voight, Maggie Smith or Kevin Spacey, who all nabbed Emmy nominations this year.
Halle Berry is another shining example. Reviews for her new CBS Wednesday night drama “Extant” are just fine, but more importantly, the show has garnered some great ratings — especially for a summer show. Berry, who won the Oscar for Best Actress in 2002, stars as a mysteriously impregnated astronaut in the sci-fi thriller.
As many stars now know, this kind of transition from movies to TV can be a great career move: Berry gets the goodwill of showing her range on TV while only committing for a certain number of episodes, as it’s a “limited series.” It’s a win-win. That will probably become even more evident next award season.
However, for every feel-good example, there are some very high-profile actors who set their sights on television, only to be sorely disappointed. Reasons varied, including a show’s unforeseen safety issue, but it still serves as a reminder that a star-studded cast doesn’t automatically boost a series to “untouchable” status. Just because it might be a smaller screen doesn’t mean it’s easy to succeed.
Here are some Academy Award winners who tried to carry a series in the last several years, but for one reason or another, found long-term TV success elusive.
Dustin Hoffman, “Luck”
Everything started out fine when HBO debuted this horse-racing drama starring Hoffman as a high-stakes gambler — unfortunately, several horses died during production of the series and there was plenty of outrage. Though HBO stressed that it “maintained the highest safety standards possible,” the network eventually canceled the series while filming the second season when a third horse died.
Marcia Gay Harden, “Trophy Wife”
With short stints on “Law & Order: SVU” and “The Newsroom,” Harden (who won an Oscar for her role in “Pollock”) was ready for a starring role, playing opposite Bradley Whitford as one his two ex-wives. To the disappointment of critics everywhere, ABC canceled this niche favorite (and very low-rated) sitcom after one season.
Robin Williams, “The Crazy Ones”
Williams’s highly-anticipated return to television (getting his start on “Mork and Mindy,” of course) had a quick end — ratings were solid, but not high enough for a CBS comedy. Some thought he might get an Emmy nomination for his work as an eccentric ad executive but he was snubbed there, too.
Forest Whitaker, “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior”
Normally, starring on a CBS procedural is a near-guaranteed way to have steady employment forever. Sadly, this spin-off didn’t gain much traction, and the network canceled it after 13 episodes. Meanwhile, Whitaker (Oscar winner for his role as dictator Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland”) bounced back to movies with little impact.
Octavia Spencer, “Murder, She Wrote” reboot
Spencer was a favorite after her award-winning turn in “The Help,” and she showed off her skills on TV with spots on “30 Rock” and “Mom”; so the Internet lit up when it was announced she was a part of this classic re-make. However, this buzzy spin-off for NBC didn’t even get off the ground, and was scrapped before it even started filming.