old tv setI grew up watching black and white TV and 2 channels.  In those years, I was a sitcom addict, watching anything that was on for 30 minutes and made me laugh a little.  I didn’t grow into the hour long shows until we got a color TV and had such choices as Bonanza and  The Man from Uncle, not to mention the variety shows like Ed Sullivan.  A third channel appeared later, bringing me Batman.

That paragraph was just to get you to see that I was pretty much steeped in the TV culture.  I was tickled, when as an adult, some of these old shows came back via Nickelodeon and TV Land.  There was Dennis the Menace and Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best and  I Love Lucy.  I smiled through The Honeymooners and grinned at Dobie Gillis.

It was at this time that I discovered those little things that I had no interest in as a kid.  Here were TV shows populated by movie stars who had switched from the silver screen to the little screen in the living room.  Loretta Young had her anthology show, after quite a successful run of films.  Donna Reed, who had made many movies in the thirties and forties, became an American mom and wife.  Robert Montgomery had a show.  Red Skelton, as a piece of new information to me, had made a name for himself in movies before he had his TV show with his wonderful characters.  This phenomenon was quite common back then – take a fading movie star and give them a TV show.  Ann Sothern and Fred MacMurray were two more, and later on it was Barbara Stanwyck on The Big Valley and even — at the end of this trend, Telly Savalas as Kojak – who prior to his TV cop show was every single army sergeant in many wartime movies.

But that trend seemed to end in the early seventies.  Amazingly enough, the trend reversed itself.  Let it be said out loud, times changed.  TV was as big as ever.  Sitcoms were still out there, just as successful as ever.  But now, the shows drew their talent from a very different pool.  Fading movie stars?  Oh, a few made the swap — Peter Falk as Columbo, Angela Lansbury living in her Cabot Cove world as Jessica Fletcher… but there was a new thing happening.

Unknown talent appeared on these shows – new talent that the networks gambled would be able to carry the weight of a new show, earning big bucks for the networks.  These TV stars became overnight sensations, some of them modeling for the covers of teen magazines.  Interestingly enough, these new names cut their acting skills on TV and then moved to the cinema, reversing the trend of the Donna Reed pattern.

John Travolta was one of the first to move from TV to the movies.  His character Vinny Barbarino (Welcome Back Kotter) grew up a bit, got a little bit smarter (but not much) and learned to sing and dance as Danny Zucko in the movie version of Grease.  He has gone on to so many more movie roles, earning an entirely separate career in film.  Then there was Robin Williams, who used his Mork and Mindy character in the Viet Nam film Good Morning Viet Nam.  From here, he went on even further to play Garp and Mrs. Doubtfire and my favorite, as the nontraditional teacher in Dead Poets Society. I don’t have to tell you about the film career of one Tom Hanks, who started out as a geeky cross dresser in Bosom Buddies.

It was not only sitcoms that saw their cast members hit it big in the movies.  The detective show Moonlighting  showed us the bang-zoom work of one very young (and full head of hair) Bruce Willis.

Others have followed with maybe not as much success, but follow they have.  Who will be next?  Molly from Mike and Molly?  One of the Big Bang Boys?

Now, it seems there’s talent going both ways.  Glenn Close has done both successfully now, and I recently saw that Don Cheadle is doing a series.  Maybe this means that the world of TV and movies are blending.  I can’t help but think that this is a good thing.