There have been so many articles about the somewhat difficult transition from being a TV star to a cinema one. I wondered why luck is different. It’s not merely a matter of chance. If you look at Michael J. Fox’s success with Back to the Future, it’s easy to put it down to a case of working with Spielberg. However, Shelley Long wasn’t that lucky when co-starring alongside Tom Hanks in The Money Pit. Mike’s success was because Universal has a TV company, NBC, which aired a sitcom that he was in – Family Ties.
Paramount produced and distributed it like another sitcom – Taxi (one of the stars was Christopher Lloyd), whose final season was aired on NBC (this facilitated an opportunity for both sitcoms to have rerun double bills when Back to the Future was released). Paramount and Universal own a corporation called UIP – United International Pictures. This corporation was responsible for distributing BTTF in Argentina, Finland, France, Sweden, the Netherlands and the U.K.
NBC Films produced the feature-length version of a Saturday Night Live skit titled Wayne’s World. Paramount distributed it as it would do with other movies based on SNL skits – The Ladies Man (flop), A Night at the Roxbury (average success), Superstar (ditto) and Coneheads (it was described as a small-scale disaster). Wayne’s World was allowed to be a hit, because it fits in rather neatly with Paramount’s MTV programming.
It’s Pat (which Quentin Tarantino had worked on as a co-writer) was the biggest flop because it wasn’t being advocated by allies. The production company was Touchstone Pictures, whereas the distributor was Buena Vista Pictures (extensions of Disney). It doesn’t matter how good or bad the script is, companies will only support product if it will benefit them in the long run. Because he was a staunch supporter of Saturday Night Live, Universal allowed The Jerk to turn Steve Martin into a movie star.
Universal distributed another Saturday Night Live advocate – John Aykroyd. The Blues Brothers was bigger than The Jerk, whose success was above-average by today’s standards despite recouping more than ten times its budget. E.R. was a Warner Brothers series which had aired on NBC, so DreamWorks were generous in promoting The Peacemaker – an action film starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman. The connection between DreamWorks and Universal is that Amblin was the parent of the former but child of the latter.
Monk was aired on USA Network (a Universal subsidiary). One of the stars was Ted Levine. He was a supporting actor in American Gangster (starring Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington), which Universal distributed. Expectedly, they were going to raise as much awareness as possible so that the influence of success was so inseparable as to seem binary. Season 6 of Monk saw a steady increase in ratings to the extent that Season 8’s finale was the most-watched drama episode in cable TV history.
With Steve Carell as the star of NBC’s The Office, Universal supported him more than ever from 2005 to 2013. The 40-Year-Old Virgin allowed him to experience an exponential rise of his bankability. Evan Almighty maintained his popularity, Knocked Up made him stay relevant, whereas Despicable Me made him more popular. Ashton Kutcher’s association with Twentieth Century Fox’s That `70s Show meant that Just Married and Cheaper by the Dozen profitably progressed from Dude, Where’s My Car?
As for other sitcom stars, Lisa Kudrow had the biggest success amidst her co-stars of Friends before the show came to an end (Warners Brothers had produced and distributed Analyze This). Second to her was Matthew Perry in The Whole Nine Years. Happy Days was produced and distributed by Paramount, but aired on ABC (which is owned by Disney). Bosom Buddies was produced by Paramount and aired on ABC as well. This explains why Ron Howard (the lead star of Happy Days) was interested in casting Tom Hanks in Splash.
Produced by Touchstone and distributed by Buena Vista, it made a fiscal splash by earning more than eight times its 8 million dollar budget. NBC were so impressed that they purchased ABC’s rights to Bosom Buddies so that it could be reran on the NBC network in the summer of 1984. Johnny Depp became so popular on Fox’s 21 Jump Street that they distributed Edward Scissorhands. It grossed more than Splash, but the ratio of budget to recoup was less impressive (it grossed slightly more than four times its budget).
Mila Kunis was considered to be more desirable after participating in an animated series despite the fact that she had a big role on a popular live-action sitcom. She experienced more interest after co-leading in Black Swan. This was eleven years after viewers heard her for the first time on Family Guy (imagine if Lacey Chabert hadn’t quit). How I Met Your Mother was a Fox sitcom that was aired on the CBS (Columbia) network. As such, Jason Segel benefited from Bad Teacher grossing more than a hundred times its budget.
Nip/Tuck was a W.B. series (produced and distributed) that aired on FX (Fox Xtended). Bradley Cooper’s appearance in a February episode was set up to be a precursor to his lead role in The Hangover, which W.B. produced and distributed for a June release date. Goldie Hawn was the main actress of a CBS sitcom titled Good Morning, World. She then starred in a Columbia-distributed comedy titled Cactus Flower. It grossed eight times its budget. Goldie Hawn won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for best supporting actress.
Home Improvement was an ABC-aired sitcom that was produced by Touchstone Television and distributed by Buena Vista Television. As a result, Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause was the second highest-grossing début star vehicle behind Back to the Future. It was produced by Walt Disney Pictures and distributed by Buena Vista Pictures. In 1998, Helen Hunt won an Oscar for As Good as it Gets and a Golden Globe for Mad About You. The former was distributed by TriStar, whose TV company co-produced the latter.
In his first memoir, Michael J. Fox said: “An actor’s bankability is determined by his power to draw an audience to those all-important first three days of a film’s release. After all, attracting an audience is the reason why the studios pay all that money for a big-name star. The pressure to ensure that the film continues to have legs (strong business in industry parlance) then shifts away from the actor to the marketing and publicity departments. All I needed was three days of solid box office, and I was out from under the failure of The Hard Way.”