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Why are movie stars flocking to cable shows?



Danson_l BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- It was an amazing lineup of talent assembled on one stage: Glenn Close (Big Chill, Jagged Edge), William Hurt (Altered States, Big Chill), Ted Danson (Cheers) and Timothy Olyphant (Live Free, Die Hard; Deadwood).

And when TV critics here asked that lineup -- assembled to fill the cast of FX's legal drama, Damages -- about why they had come together to do a television show, Danson's reaction said it all.

"(This show) made me really excited about going to work as an actor again...and that had kind of diminished for me a little bit," said the former Cheers star, who earned some of his strongest reviews in recent years playing Damages' narcissistic CEO Arthur Frobisher. "When you're in your 30s, it's much more fun to be the easygoing womanizing bartender. When you're in your 60s, this is way more fun."

And Danson isn't alone. Cable shows across the dial are filled with movie stars writing new acts for themselves in signature cable series, from Kyra Sedgwick on TNT's the Closer to Holly Hunter in TNT's Saving Grace and Benjamin Bratt on A&E's The Cleaner.

Theshield_300x300 FX president John Landgraf had a simple explanation for all the movie star power: cable shows are more complex, challenging and creatively ambitious than ever before.

"These are not shows about the case of the week," he said, taking a bit of a swipe at network TV hits such as House and CSI. "they're shows that tell large, sweeping serialized stories about characters who change and grow...(These shows) are taking on social commentary...grand, sweeping questions about human characters and human nature. To me, those are the best shows on television." 

Seven years ago, when Landgraf and a bunch of hotshots were about to debut a gritty cop series based on Los Angeles' Rampart Division police scandal called The Shield, critics weren't sure what to make of this strategy -- spending millions to create a signature show which could sink the network if it didn't work. Back then, there were eight hour-long scripted series in basic cable, not very well respected; now there are more than 30.

Flash forward to today, and Landgraf faced TV critics today to take credit for the explosion of quality TV series filling basic cable these days, from TNT's The Closer and Saving Grace to TBS' My Boys, AMC's Mad Men and Breaking Bad and A&E's The Cleaner. Now, it's accepted practice that any ambitious network will stick some bucks behind an ambitious series idea to try and make a splash.

"It's really, really hard to find a great show," said Landgraf. "To find shows that are both creatively excellent and successful is like searching for a needle in a haystack."

Uhh, yeah. Well, grand statements aside, Landgraf confirmed what I've written before -- the quality gulf between basic cable and network TV is growing. And splintering the TV audience right along with it.

Here's some other announcements:

Michael_j_fox -- Michael J. Fox is officially joining the cast of Denis Leary's firefighter hit Rescue Me for four episodes, as the wheelchair bound new boyfriend of the ex-wife of Leary's character Tommy Gavin. He will be featured in the first episodes when the show returns in 2009. Gavin once beat his brother to a pulp for dating his ex --wonder what he'll do to a guy in a wheelchair?Marciagayharden

-- Marcia Gay Harden is joining the cast of the Glenn Close legal drama Damages as a high powered attorney who will oppose Close's Gloria Allred-style character Patty Hewes. Cheers alum Ted Danson is reappearing as the show's quality baddie Arthur Frobisher. Fans will recall that Frobisher was shot at the end of the show's first season, and while the show's creators tried to play coy with critics here, FX president Landgraf let it slip that Danson's character survived the attack.

-- FX is ordering another 19 episodes of the plastic surgery drama, Nip/Tuck, planning for the show to wrap up in 2011. The last eight episodes of its 5th season will air in January 2009; when it leaves the air, Nip/Tuck will have assembled more than 100 episodes.

-- FX will also make 52 more original episodes of the comedy It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, to go with the 32 episodes which have already aired. Its Fourth season premieres at 10 p.m. on Sept. 18.


[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:49pm]


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