I just watched the promos for the upcoming fall TV shows. Many felt oddly familiar. Why? To find the answer, I looked back at two recent NBC shows, Bent and Best Friends Forever for the answer. I liked both of these short-lived series, but they both had the same, odd problem. Both shows felt old, like I had been watching them for years. I had been watching them for years – and by “them”, I mean the actors.
Bent featured the guy from Perfect Couples and the woman from Studio Sixty on the Sunset Strip. Best Friends Forever featured the sister from Accidentally on Purpose and the woman from… What was that show again? I know her from something…
This is a pattern. There’s a roster of working class actresses and actors who I think are very talented – and apparently so do the network executives. Seemingly every year, these actors lose their jobs when their series is cancelled, and the networks immediately put them in the next great new series. I’m not talking about famous names like Matthew Perry and Jenna Elfman. I’m talking about perennial television MVPs like Kyle Bornheimer, Andrea Anders, Tyler Labine and Rene Sofer. You probably don’t know their names, but look at these pictures and tell me if their faces don’t ring a bell:
They do, because you’ve seen them, collectively, in dozens and dozens of failed shows.
I’m a TV nerd, so my innate facial recognition software would rival security systems at Vegas casinos. But I believe that we all remember TV faces. Maybe not consciously, but somewhere in the back of our brains, next to the answers to old Trivial Pursuit questions are mental Pinterest boards filled with images of people we’ve seen on TV shows or on ads for other TV shows.
An actor from a cancelled show transfers the stink of failure to a new series. When a new show is filled with the faces of last year’s failures, it feels like I’m watching leftovers.
So, what’s the Rich Fix?
A blackout period. Actors whose TV series just got canceled are benched for two years. So if you’re an actor on a struggling show, start saving those paychecks. If your sitcom doesn’t get renewed, it’s time to finally mount that one-person show at a theater on Santa Monica Blvd. If your drama gets the ax, start filming webisodes of that idea you wouldn’t shut up about around the craft service table. You’ve got two years of free time to fill.
But this is not about the actors. Casting and development executives have to break the cycle. While it may be easier for them to cast a known quantity during the craziness of pilot season, the TV schedule has to stop feeling like the same deck of cards being reshuffled.
I need the networks to commit as a block – no buckling when that last-minute pilot just lost it’s male lead and the hunky guy from Terra Nova is just perrrrrect for the role.
Benching network favorite actors may feel harsh, but tell that to the hundreds and hundreds of actors in Los Angeles that can’t get a break. Fresh television is a win for everyone. As an audience, we’re more likely to get sucked into a world we haven’t visited yet. New faces will ultimately translate into more viewers.
The financial realities of the Rich Fix may make being an actor a less appealing career option. That’s okay too. This country needs more teachers, nurses and firefighters. Wait, maybe that could be a new show. I got the perfect leads: the blond assistant from Harry’s Law and the Latino guy from CSI: MIami are both available!