What is the Appeal?

There are three actors that the networks continually cast as TV series leads — despite the fact that the shows these guys star in consistently bomb. I’m talking, of course, about Steven Eckholdt, Christopher Gorham, and Eric Balfour (the list used to include Jason Gedrick and Ivan Sergei, but it seems the networks have finally wised up to them).

Eckholdt has just been cast as one of the stars of the CBS pilot SPLIT DECISION despite a string of bombs like HALF & HALF, MY BIG FAT GREEK LIFE, GRAPEVINE, and IT’S LIKE YOU KNOW.  He’s apparently the kiss-of-death for any series…but the networks keep going back to him again and again. What is it about him that makes him so darn castable?

Gorham’s CBS sitcom OUT OF PRACTICE has just been shelved…making this his fourth flop series in a row, following MEDICAL INVESTIGATION, JAKE 2.0, and ODYSSEY 5. What do you want to bet he’ll show up in  yet another series next season? Networks keep betting on him…and losing. So why do they continue?

Balfour is currently one of the stars of the ratings-challenged CONVICTION, but his past series flops include SEX LIES AND SECRETS, HAWAII, and VERITAS. Casting directors obviously fell in love with him for his guest-starring role on SIX FEET UNDER, but does that make him a series lead? So far, the evidence seems to be  NO.

What is it, exactly, that casting directors see in these guys? And how
much longer will they keeping getting starring roles in pilots before someone decides that they are never going to be the  next George Clooney… or even Robert Urich?

24 thoughts on “What is the Appeal?”

  1. Lee, a question for you since you know a fair amount about the tv business. Why is it that tv networks are so fast to shelve/cancel shows when they hardly give them anytime to actually run and make an impression on viewers? I’m curious, just because it seems they bitch about viewer ratings yet they are ready to cancel a show within a month of it starting, seems stupid too me, any thoughts? Thanks.

  2. Of course, Clooney was on multiple flops before he hit with E.R. – including another show called E/R. The same is true of Jennifer Garner pre-Alias and Lauren Graham before Gilmore Girls. Casting directors obviously see something in these actors. It’s not necessarily their fault if the shows that they’re on fail. Maybe the blame lies with the *koff* writing.

  3. Another one I could have added to the list was Justin Louis. He just finished his second season in a secondary role on the Lifetime series MISSING after starring in a string of high-profile network flops like HIDDEN HILLS, THE FIGHTING FITZGERALDS, BATTERY PARK, PUBLIC MORALS, LOCAL HEROES, TRINITY and ST. MICHAELS CROSSING.
    Another one is Dale Midkiff…he starred in the flop series TIME TRAX and MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and for years was cast as the lead in one unsold pilot after another before the networks finally gave up on trying to make him a star.
    Jeffrey Meek, who briefly starred in RAVEN and THE EXILE, is still another actor that was being groomed for stardom that never came…

  4. I’m guessing they test well in marketing focus groups. In some ways I feel sorry for the network executive. While they drive a company leased Mercedes, they live in fear, and use focus groups to try and shore up whatever natural ability they had to get them in the decision making position in the first place.

  5. Erica Balfour was positioned to be a regular on Buffy. Then they killed him at the end of the pilot. The show went on to have a seven-year run. Coincidence? I think not.

  6. Personally, I think “It’s Like, You Know” was wonderfully funny. I wish it had found an audience because I never failed to laugh at it.

  7. My question is, how much of the blame for a failed pilot can you lay in the lap of an actor? Sure, it probably also depends on a lot of other stuff (like writing), but sooner or later, wouldn’t the “always a bridesmaid” mindset apply?

  8. Lee —
    You put an awful lot of the burden on casting directors here when that isn’t the case. Yes, the casting directors bring in the talent, but they have to be approved at several levels above that – Exec. producers, Executives at the studios, Executives at the networks. You cannot blame casting directors, when everyone who has decision-making authority in the casting of the production is to blame.
    I don’t see it myself, but obviously as the actors in question moved higher up the approval chain, they had great auditions. Was it a question of whether or not the higher ups didn’t want to question the casting director’s taste? I don’t know.
    But Eric Balfour needs a shave. If he’s going to play a lawyer in the NYC DA’s office – he needs to shave.
    Chris Gorham was on the highly regarded show POPULAR which ran for a couple of years – people probably bring him in because they need a geeky type and he was memorable in that role.

  9. I remember that, back in the ’70s, Todd Susman and Granville Van Dusen used to do what seemed like two pilots a year…few of which, if any, went to series. I have no idea why anyone thought Todd Susman was a viable TV series lead…

  10. Gorham can not be held singlehandedly responsible for the failure of OUT OF PRACTICE. It also had Paula Marshall in the cast, who has killed at least four shows I can think of…

  11. I rather liked Jake 2.0 and found It’s Like You Know to be watchable. The rest … blech!!!
    But the real reason for this post is to mention the PENULTIMATE show-killer, Paula Marshall, Gorham’s co-blinky light in Out of Practice. Lovely girl (except in this show), but a series killer. She’s got a half-dozen cancellations on her rap sheet as series regulars and I somehow blame her for Sports Night too.
    The ULTIMATE show-killer? Rena Sofer. Just as lovely, just as deadly.

  12. Dale Robinette, Art Hindle, and Alan Feinstein are three other actors who were in a ton of pilots and flop shows in the 70s. Robinette is now a set-photographer (just saw his name on THANK YOU FOR SMOKING) Hindle has disappeared, and Feinstein has showed up with a terrible face-lift on NIP/TUCK and some other shows this season.

  13. It’s probably like how some NFL quarterbacks keep getting gigs with team after team even though they’re not all that good. You know, they’re not going to light up the night but at least they’re dependable and you know what you’re getting…

  14. That’s not even to mention the actors who have done TONS of pilots which never get to see the light of day – I know actors who do two, three a year which never get picked up or seen.
    I worked in Primetime casting for one of the big three networks a few years back – the blame really falls on the execs, who want only specific and hot actors – they have to be tv pretty (except for Dennis Franz, who is pretty in a different way and owes his turn to Botcho)and not at all threatening.
    Casting directors at that level are pretty hamstrung.
    Compare that with the work on HBO Georganne Walken is doing – casting actors that really look like the people who they are supposed to be playing (can you imagine the Tony Soprano as cast by NBC or FOX? The character is a romantic lead, in a way, and who would have gotten cast and would he have even been Italian?) and look more like actors and less like models.
    Anyway, that’s my two cents.

  15. Art Hindle is back in Canada.
    I remember his show (and was reminded of it from your book, Lee) about the son of an air force colonel who has electrical powers.
    Great stuff for the kids – even funnier for the adults!

  16. One problem I have is that these actors mentioned all seem so interchangeable … to the point that when I clicked on your link for Eric Balfour, I was directed to Jason Gedrick’s IMDb page and almost didn’t notice I was on the wrong page.
    I did enjoy “Jake 2.0” and “Out of Practice”; but while Christopher Gorham was the lead in both of those shows, those roles were so secondary to the “nano-computers” and “The GRANDPA Fonz,” respectively, that just about anyone, including Steven Eckholdt and Eric Balfour, among a long list of others, could have been cast in those shows without any discernable difference.

  17. I’m not sure if you’re being serious but few, if any, of those shows linked to those actors could be considered good.
    More popular actors are offered the better written shows and, sadly, the average to poorly written shows is what the other actors end up with.
    The audience isn’t stupid and when a show sucks in concept and/or execution even the likeability of its leads can’t save it.

  18. In Gorham’s case, you should consider him a show saver. I was about to stop watching Ugly Betty last year until he showed up as the adorkable Henry. Now, I look forward to Thursdays if only for a few minutes of screentime from Gorham. He’s a great actor – lots going on under the surface there. He’s clearly a smart guy too, and a romantic. What’s not to like? He just needs a good vehicle. And even UB is giving him short shrift. He needs beefier story lines. He can handle them.
    Yeah – don’t blame the messenger. 😉

  19. Hi Lee
    I noticed you thought I had disappeared…
    Well, actually I have been very, very busy acting, directing and hosting shows…
    Hope you have been busy too…maybe we’ll work together someday…
    enjoyed your website !

  20. Wow, is it really Art Hindle? Fantastic! What a great acting talent! I saw the movie, “Face-off,” at the theatre and I’ve followed your career ever since. You were great in this movie and you bring an incredible presence to each of your roles.
    You won’t believe this, Art, but I saw you in a Mary Higgins Clark movie, starring Merideth Baxter, and you played the wrongly convicted character. Guess whose acting has stayed with me all these years! You just bring a deeply felt intensity to all your roles and you make the show much better for it.
    Glad you’re doing well!


Leave a Comment