Friday, December 29, 2006

On The Fourth Day Of Christmas...

My true love (TV) gave to me - Four big career moves

Every so often people in TV make big career moves. Some of them are bigger than others, but for right or wrong they took the big leap when those about them stayed on the safe secure boring path.

Retirement may well be the biggest career move of all. Giving up what you've been doing for more than half of your life - not just your adult life - is a huge career move. That's what Bob Barker did though. Admittedly he's 83 years old but he still seems to be in rare good health. When he retires in June 2007 he will have been doing The New Price Is Right (as it was called when it debuted) for 35 years, and he did Truth Or Consequences from 1956 to 1975, which means that he has been doing game shows for 50 years.

Now here's a confession - I don't like Bob Barker. He has always seemed to me to be, well rather phony to me. For me the straw that broke the camel's back was the firing of my favourite "Barker's Beauty", the somewhat klutzy but adorable red-head Holly Hallstrom. Nominally Hallstrom was fired for the "crime" of gaining 14 pounds as a result of taking prescription medications. She revealed to the press that she had actually been fired because she wouldn't support Barker in his lawsuit against Dian Parkinson. In the subsequent suit, long-time Price Is Right models Janice Pennington and Kathleen Bradley were both subpoenaed to testify on Hallstrom's behalf. Both were fired soon after with the excuse being that the show wanted younger models. It all comes across as the action of someone being vindictive rather than the vaguely suave but fatherly image he projects on the show.

The next career move is more of a lateral shift, but when Katie Couric moved from NBC's Today to CBS as the new anchor of The CBS Evening News it was a big shift. It is true that the morning shows have been the source for news anchors - Tom Brokaw at NBC and Charles Gibson at ABC are the major examples - these tended to be promotions from within and the people involved had a significant background in "hard news." Couric's background before taking on the CBS Evening News was primarily softer news. Needless to say her promotion to the anchor desk at CBS - the first woman to be the sole anchor of any network news broadcast - was greeted with scorn by a lot of people. This increased when the direction that the newscast was going to take was revealed. It was seen as a softer news presentation (even if Walter Cronkite provided the voice at the start of the newscast), and the inclusion of what amounted to a guest editorial didn't help. Hiring Couric for a huge salary was seen as a publicity move for a newcast that has been in third place for a while. If it was, it failed since ratings haven't improved since Couric moved into the anchor chair.

The career changes for Alec Baldwin and Matthew Perry weren't as extreme as those for Barker or Couric, but they were breaks from the way that they had been perceived by the public. In Baldwin's case he had already been developing a persona as a comedic actor - in fact one of his first major roles was in Beetle Juice. If you're like me though the movies you remember him from are things like The Hunt For Red October, The Getaway, and Glengarry, Glen, Ross. In more recent times his comedic side has emerged more. He has done voice work for the animated version of Clerks, appeared on Will And Grace a number of times, and of course done fifteen episodes of Saturday Night Live. The bigger thing is that he has chosen this time, only a couple of years after his Oscar nominated supporting role in The Closer to move into series television. His casting as Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock will most likely earn him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy (whether he'll win or not is anybody's guess - he should but who knows when it comes to Emmy voters).

For Matthew Perry the jump is a lot bigger. Virtually his entire career, with the major exception of playing Joe Quincy on three episodes of The West Wing has been spent acting in situation comedies. And while some may debate the exact nature of Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (well with so many people criticizing it for not being funny there must be at least some who think it's a comedy) there is no doubt that playing Matt Albie is considerably different than playing Chandler Bing on Friends. Matt doesn't get the laughs that Chandler did, although - and maybe I'm alone in this - I do see something of the attitude that Chandler had in the character of Matt Albie. Despite its fine ensemble cast, which includes Steven Weber, Bradley Whitford and Timothy Busfield, Studio 60 is very much Perry's show. He is the dominant figure in the cast which is another major difference from Friends. If the show were more popular I would expect a nomination for Perry as well, but as I said, with Emmy voters one never really knows.

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