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Seven actors who crossed the TV/movie line.

Seven actors who crossed the TV/movie line. (photo)

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This weekend saw “Date Night” rocket to the top of the box-office, solidifying the future viability of Tina Fey and Steve Carell as theatrical attractions rather than stuck with bouncing from one TV show to another for the next fifty years. (Promoting the film, Fey returned to “Saturday Night Live” as some kind of new cultural hero).

Some TV legends — Lucille Ball, Andy Griffith — are perfectly content to stick to the tube, only occasionally attempting the odd supporting role on-screen. For others, though, the chance to capitalize upon years of mass exposure and go big-time is too hard to resist, whether or not it’s a good idea — it’s tricky to find time to film when you’re still working on a show, and it’s all too easy to fail in public no matter how many times you try to cross over. Here are seven who tried (and often succeeded) in breaking through to the other side.

04122010_rawhide.jpgClint Eastwood

Before Eastwood started incarnating the changing face of the American cowboy — from uncomplicated masculinity to anti-hero, interrogating his own persona as he went along — he had a trial run on “Rawhide,” the fifth-longest-running Western TV show of all time. As “Rowdy Yates,” Eastwood helped keep the cattle drive running in a fairly straightforward manner. He could speak quite articulately in the moment about how he was shifting the image of the cowboy in his movies. Total transition time from TV to cinema: under a decade. And while he was on “Rawhide,” Eastwood shared screen time with another, much less self-conscious future Tough Guy Star: Mr. Charles Bronson, who enters his guest appearance with the lines “You’re on my bridge, cowboy. Get off.”

04122010_vinnie.jpgJohn Travolta

Even while Travolta was warping teenage girls’ lives forever with his starring roles in “Grease” and giving the ’70s its ultimate image of disco-loving youth in “Saturday Night Fever,” he was slaving away as Vinnie Barbarino on “Welcome Back, Kotter,” Gabe Kaplan’s dysfunctional-classroom sitcom (though he did leave at the end of the third season). Travolta’s main function was to be a lovable Italian-American goofball, running around singing his personal theme song (“Barbara Ann,” reworked with his last name repeated multiple times) — an image that somehow didn’t constrain Travolta’s choice of parts when he moved into film (even though the line between the show and “Fever” was pretty direct). Despite the show being the creation of star Gabe Kaplan — who based it on his own experiences as a public school teacher — Travolta was the break-out hit, though it was Kaplan who released a novelty single based off Barbarino’s big catchphrase. Presenting “Up Your Nose With A Rubber Hose,” the song.

04122010_tooltime.jpgTim Allen

No fool he, Tim Allen didn’t really want to transition from TV to film as he wanted to rule the entire world and hang on to all parts of the market for as long as possible; one weekend in 1994, he had the number one show (“Home Improvement”), number one book (his memoir “Don’t Stand Too Close To A Naked Man”) and movie (“The Santa Clause”) in the country — not bad for a guy whose range was limited to grunting, scratching himself and projecting immense self-satisfaction and cluelessness. If the “Santa Clause” franchise proved to be a surprisingly reliable cash cow for multiple installments, it’s worth noting that Allen’s only significant post-“Improvement” role was as a self-loathing, hard-drinking actor past his prime in “Redbelt” — a mentality former coke trafficker Allen can surely understand.

04122010_roseanne.jpgGeorge Clooney

Clooney toiled in TV for nearly 20 years before he finally became a star — although now, to be fair, his mostly idiosyncratic choices of roles mean he tends to make more headlines than his actual movies — like his “Ocean’s” co-star Brad Pitt, he’s often more famous than for his work (much of which is quite good). That means his back catalogue is full of turns that, in retrospect, make selected episodes of mildly beloved TV shows more interesting — it’s hard to remember that the suavest star we have did time on many shows as more-or-less a working schmo. He played Roseanne’s diner boss, a carpenter on “The Facts of Life,” and a cop not too smooth with the ladies on “The Golden Girls” — which in retrospect is just as unlikely as his would-be prole fisherman in “The Perfect Storm.”

04122010_csi.jpgDavid Caruso

Until finding a home on “CSI: Miami” as an obnoxious detective whose one-liners make ’80s Schwarzenegger look like the height of Noel Coward-esque wit, “David Caruso” was synonymous with “cautionary tale about leaving television for film.” If four seasons seems like a reasonable amount of time to raise one’s profile while making movies on the side — that’s how long Johnny Depp, say, toiled on “21 Jump Street” — Caruso left four episodes into the second season of “NYPD Blue,” only to brick twice (with “Kiss of Death” and “Jade”), lapse into the direct-to-DVD realm, and finally return back to TV, tail between his legs. This time, at least, he has much better sunglasses, and has been used as one of the better odd references/punchline in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” when Steve Carrell instantly understands this useful advice for picking up women: “Be David Caruso in ‘Jade.'”

04122010_squarepegs.jpgSarah Jessica Parker

Television worked for SJP twice: first for her one season on the ’80s show “Square Pegs” that got her career moving, then when “Sex and the City” revitalized her career, which had come down to spinning her wheels in supporting player parts. Not that Parker ever particularly asked to be ubiquitous — but yes, appearing in one of the most heinously influential shows of the last 20 years achieved that. (At a recent screening of “Ed Wood,” the audience laughter at her line “Do I really have a face like a horse?” seemed more than a little resentful and fed-up.) Parker went from embodying Modern Woman (or one very weird incarnation of it anyway) to, now, a series of bland rom-com roles that seem designed to undo everything that made her on-screen incarnation distinctive and different. But hey, everyone needs work. Then again, even as early as “Ed Wood,” there was something about Parker that made filmmakers want to cast her as a self-consciously normative woman just to tweak her; what she puts up with before walking away from Wood is pretty unbelievable.

04122010_topherforman.jpgTopher Grace

Out of all the people on the ubiquitous mediocrity that was “That ’70s Show,” Topher Grace was clearly the sharpest one, with the best timing. If anyone should’ve attained crossover success, it was him. Instead, the world was primarily graced with Mr. Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher. Grace’s career gamble was to hope his role in “Spider-Man 3” would help blow him up, but his creditable turn as Venom got lost inside the multiple completing plots and storylines, and his career’s never quite recovered. He’s a leading man trapped inside the roles of a sarcastic bit player. It’s too bad 2004’s “P.S.” wasn’t a better movie; that Grace could hold his own against Dennis Quaid in “In Good Company” was one thing, but that he could have an affair with Laura Linney without getting eaten alive was kind of amazing.

[Photos: “Date Night,” 20th Century Fox, 2010; “Rawhide,” 1959-65, Paramount; “Welcome Back, Kotter,” Warner Home Video, 1975-79; “Home Improvement,” ABC, 1991-99; “Roseanne,” Anchor Bay Entertainment, 1988-97; “CSI: Miami,” CBS, 2002-present; “Square Pegs,” Sony Pictures Television, 1982; “That ’70s Show,” 20th Century Fox, 1998-2006]

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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