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Thirteen big name movie stars who couldn't cut it on television - VIDEOS

by Richard Keller, posted Mar 2nd 2009 10:02AM

Faye Dunaway in a CBS sitcom? No, it's not an alternate universe. It actually happened.Movie actors are a unique bunch of characters in Hollywood. Adept at script memorization, method acting, and being snobby little princesses (the males included), they are somewhat limited in their performance venues. They can switch pretty easily and thrive in theater productions because most of them began their acting lives on the stage in front of adoring audiences. Decades ago they could also do radio pretty easily; most likely because they could read right from the script and no one listening would know any different.

Television? Well, that's a whole different loaf a bread! For some reason, big-named movie stars with their Oscars and Golden Globes just tank when they decide to jump to the small screen. Their failures could be due to the show they've decided to star in, who they play on the show, or the fact that they are catering to a different audience than film-goers. Whatever the reason, some of Hollywood's most famous film stars had some famously big television flops. Here are but a few of them to digest.


1. Chevy Chase: Late night talk shows come and go, but not as fast as Chevy Chase's did. Star of such popular movies as Foul Play, Caddyshack and National Lampoon's Vacation, Chase had one of the shortest talk show runs in the history of television. Beginning on September 7, 1993, The Chevy Chase Show lasted less than one month. Yet, it still remains the brunt of many jokes.

2. Tony Curtis: After successes in such movies as Some Like It Hot, Operation Petticoat and The Great Race, Curtis decided to try his hand at series TV with the 1971 show The Persuaders! Costarring Roger Moore, the show about two world-hopping playboys who solve crimes lasted a mere five months on ABC.

3. Richard Dreyfuss: Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goodbye Girl. You probably remember all of these movies that starred Richard Dreyfuss. However, I'm sure you don't remember The Education of Max Bickford, the 2001 series that starred the actor as a college history professor. Lasting only one season, Max Bickford faded into television memory fairly quickly.

4. Faye Dunaway: The star of Bonnie and Clyde, The Thomas Crown Affair, and Network in a traditional three-camera, live audience sitcom? Well, people did crazy things in the 1990s. And Faye Dunaway was crazy enough to star with Robert Urich in It Had to Be You, which aired on CBS from September to October of 1993.

5. Henry Fonda: As the 1970s began, a number of older movie stars realized there was this industry called television they should try out. One of these was Henry Fonda. In 1971, he starred in the ABC dramedy The Smith Family. While it didn't do much for Fonda's career (it only lasted 39 episodes), it allowed co-star Ron Howard to continue his transformation from kid Hollywood star to grown-up Hollywood star.

6. Nathan Lane: A success in both film (The Birdcage) and theater (The Producers), Nathan Lane just couldn't make the mark in series television, despite the fact that he was surrounded by a plethora of talent in his flops. It began with NBC's One of the Boys in the early 80s, which also starred Mickey Rooney and Dana Carvey, continued with Encore! Encore! in the 90s, and possibly ended with CBS' Charlie Lawrence in the early 2000s.

7. Ray Liotta: You may not know this, but the star of Goodfellas and Cop Land was asked to to be Tony Soprano. It's true! (Well, Wikipedia says it's true.) Of course, if he took the role and flourished, then he wouldn't have starred in CBS' Smith, which had a three-episode run in 2006. And, we could have forgotten shows like the short-run series Our Family Honor and the TV version of Casablanca.

8. Shirley MacLaine: Yes, the star of The Apartment and Sweet Charity actually had a television comedy in 1971 called Shirley's World where she played a globe-trotting photojournalist. Don't worry about the failure of this series, which only ran 17 episodes; she'll have another shot at it when she's reincarnated.

9. Bette Midler: The star of The Rose and Beaches should have been a shoo-in for a television sitcom with her manic energy and humorous ways. Alas, her 2000 sitcom Bette only lasted a handful of episodes on the CBS schedule.

10. Robert Mitchum: Many of you probably remember Robert Mitchum from such classic movies as Cape Fear and The Longest Day, as well as the epic TV miniseries The Winds of War, North and South and War and Remembrance. That's good, because you probably forgot him in the two series A Family for Joe and African Skies, which he starred in during the 1990s. Everyone else probably has, as well, since both series ended shortly after they began.

11. Christian Slater: The latest victim in the movie to television transition is the former star of Heathers and Broken Arrow. While My Own Worst Enemy seemed promising, it just couldn't make it in a world full of similar shows. Maybe his television future is as Lieutenant Commander Jack Reese, the role he played on three episodes of The West Wing.

12. Jimmy Stewart: This It's a Wonderful Life and Rear Window star (as well as star of so many more great movies) made his much-anticipated television series debut in the 1971 comedy The Jimmy Stewart Show. Unfortunately, the anticipation faded quickly as the show ended after 21 episodes. Two years later he starred as a country lawyer who solved crimes in Hawkins. While the show won a Golden Globe award, it only aired for seven episodes.

13. Gene Wilder: You would think that someone with the wit and charm of thisThe Producers and Young Frankenstein star would be a a sitcom superstar. Sadly, that wit and charm didn't transition to the three-camera format in 1994 when Gene starred in the NBC sitcom Something Wilder. After only one season, this series took a quick bow and was never seen again.

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Karin

I watched Tony curtis in the Persuaders for a couple of years. It was a great show!

March 03 2009 at 10:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Peter hirschman

A couple of the people you mention had other shows like
Tony Curtis Had mcoy (part of one of NBC's mystery wheels) or Henry Fonda who had a early success as the marshall on "The Deputy" during the 50's . I mean what
actually constitutes a faillure Curtis's Persuaders lasted two seasons . just because a person dosn't have a show on constantly dosn't mean he or she is a failure .
look nat George Clooney it took FIVE or more shows to
finally become a star and it was a ensemble show at that! or Burt Reynolds who has had Four Tv shows to his credit.(Riverboat,Gunsmoke (supporting player),evening shades ,and B.L.Stryker .
usually It Is A Combanation of reasons including
a premise/charecter that is not a good fit .
A example of a good fit but not a Great ratings winner
is Glen Close on"Dameges" or Eliza Dushku on "dollHouse"
both have roles that ONLY be played by them and therefore makes for better television .
what dos'nt work is when you take someone out of their element and stick them in a role that is contrary to Their "known" nature ;such as when you get a singing star who has little or no experiance as a "stunt casted "
Guest star . when you do this it's all about the guest star and not the show . Thanks peter

March 03 2009 at 2:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Su

Actually, Nathan Lane would not be considered a 'movie star'. He certainly doesn't consider himself a movie star and has said so on more than one occasion. Yes, he's made some movies but he isn't a Hollywood star. As for TV, you may have noticed a trend in TV shows that seems to indicate that the TV execs don't quite know what to do with theater actors (which is what Lane is). They have cast him, Kristin Chenoweth and many other NY theater actors in shows but they seem incapable of creating a venue in which a theater actor can thrive. These are people who sing, dance, act and mesmerize live audiences and TV creative teams do not seem able to find the right fit for these talents. Too bad. They are very talented people and actors the American public would enjoy seeing if only they could find the right property.

March 03 2009 at 12:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
nick

Education of Max Bickford was a great show as was Smith. Both had great casts and both were pulled without giving the shows a chance. I think Smith would have done a lot better had it appeared on HBO instead of network television.

And speaking of shows pulled too early-- I really liked Mr & Mrs Smith with Scott Bakula and Mario Bello. Not to be confused with the movie, which appeared much later and was unrelated.

March 03 2009 at 1:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tim McCleese

@ deezul

With all due respect Deezul, Bob never implied that some movie stars did not make it on tv. The article was simply a conversation piece on those who never made a large impact. And even thus, it was not to be taken as a slam on the said actors. Take it as a fun, light article as it was meant to be.

March 02 2009 at 7:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
C C

I suspect Richard Dreyfuss and Christian Slater will eventually have hit tv series, probably on cable. We're seeing a lot of movie people migrating to tv and the creative freedom that the cable networks allow. And where the top behind-the-scenes people go, the actors will not be far behind.

March 02 2009 at 4:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Alex

Jodie Foster.

She played the Tatum O'Neal role in the (Very) short-lived redo of Paper Moon.

TV's loss was the movies' gain: Jodie Foster may be small in stature, but she's one of the biggest movie stars there is. Talented, too.

March 02 2009 at 3:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Alex's comment
Brent McKee

Jodie Foster was all over TV when she was a kid - you could practically watch her grow up just by watching reruns of the shows she guest starred on before she did Taxi Driver.

March 02 2009 at 4:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Wintermute

I think the distinction needs made between "film actors who couldn't cut it" and "writers who can't make a show watchable despite the star power behind it." I think a lot of your list falls into the latter category. For example, "My Own Worst Enemy" was not Slater's fault. The show had great promise, and Slater played the part(s) well. The writing, however, left a lot to be desired.

And to pile on, despite his talk show flop, Chevy Chase started on TV and, as many SNL alumni do, made the jump to film from there.

How about an opposing list? Film actors who had a great transition to TV...

March 02 2009 at 1:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Deezul

Not for nothing, but there is just as large a list of movie stars who WERE successful. Slow news day TV Squad?

March 02 2009 at 1:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
juliabkates

And Ray Liotta was Joey on Another World for ages before he went to the movies.

March 02 2009 at 12:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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