Can movie stars save longform?


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"One thing that is great about the climate now is that it's acceptable (for talent) to bounce back and forth from TV to theatrical and vice versa," says "Grey Gardens" executive producer Rachael Horovitz. And "as fewer theatrical movies are getting made, the TV buyers know that there's an availability of talent."

With names attached like Sigourney Weaver (Lifetime's "Prayers for Bobby"), Drew Barrymore (HBO's "Grey Gardens") and Kevin Bacon (HBO's "Taking Chance"), this year's most-talked-about Emmy longform entries boast a slew of A-list talent baited by TV execs.

"What we did at Lifetime," explains Tanya Lopez, senior vp original movies at the network, "was to sort of step back and say we need to elevate our cast. We needed to tell better stories with better characters that would attract them."

With industry doomsayers predicting the death of the television longform genre, producers are looking more to these high-wattage actors to raise the profile of their projects.

And stars are happy to make themselves available. Some actors even prefer certain projects for television.

"I'm glad I didn't do ('Taking Chance') as a feature. I really am," admits Bacon, who plays a real-life Marine officer escorting the remains of a soldier, killed in Iraq, back to his family in Wyoming. "It would have been really tough to go out with such an introspective, serious film. 'Taking Chance' feels like an independent film to me."

Not only did Bacon find the tone of the movie uniquely suited to television, but he also found television's mode of delivery better suited to such a piece.

"To know that it's got not only a built-in audience with HBO the first time around, but also the opportunity for people to get it on-demand, it was the best possible thing to do with this movie," Bacon says.

The fact that top-tier talent like Shirley MacLaine (Lifetime's "Coco Chanel") and Jessica Lange ("Grey Gardens") are jumping at television offers has also meant that projects developed as features are finding their way to television without compromising their quality. Horovitz has had other TV entries (including 2004's "Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate" with Jeff Bridges and Willem Dafoe) that she originally envisioned as feature projects land on the small screen, not because the projects failed as features, but because motivated TV producers saw a market for movies on television.

"They were realized and became real projects because there were TV companies that wanted to make them with the appropriate interest, the right budget, the right timing, the right scale," Horovitz notes. "It wasn't Plan B. It was an aggressive buyer, and that's all a producer wants."

With talent lining up for television movies and miniseries, and with projects originally conceived for the silver screen switching sides and taking talent with them, perhaps it's not longform producers that need to be worried at all. Perhaps the same doomsayers that predicted that the TV movie event was over will now see fit to direct their attention to the possible mortality of the feature market.

"Level playing field is not exactly a phrase you'd apply to the entertainment industry," Horovitz jokes, "but in a way, it's a little leveler now."
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