Peak TV’s Casts Netting Top Actors

As peak television has grown, so too has the quality of its casts.

With traditionally A-list actors blurring the lines between the big and silver screens, the television landscape has started to mirror the films those stars frequent. Shows like Big Little Lies, His Dark Materials and Watchmen, among others, provide them with opportunities to flesh out their acting talents and dip into more detailed stories.

When Big Little Lies was first announced, it garnered significant attention due to the magnitude of its cast. Toplined by the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern and Nicole Kidman, who have a total of eight Oscar nominations combined with two wins, the show centers on five women whose lives intersect for better or worse in Monterey Bay, California. The talent continued to span, adding Shailene Woodley and Zoe Kravitz (famed for their roles in the Divergent series), Parks and Recreation’s Adam Scott and True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgaard. 

The caliber in front of the screen helped propel the series to one of HBO’s most-watched of 2017, leading to a surprise second season renewal and the addition of Oscar-winning (-winning-still winning) actress Meryl Streep.

That same caliber led the talents of Ruth Wilson (The Affair), James McAvoy (the X-Men series) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) to His Dark Materials, a BBC and HBO co-production based on the novel series. The show is the second adaptation of the books, with the former being 2007’s widely-panned The Golden Compass. It’s also an example of how television projects, ones that take their time delivering its story, helps attract higher talent.

It’s not just A-list stars that are drawn. Stranger Things provides the best example, as the show utilized actors known throughout its time period (Winona Ryder, Sean Astin and Paul Resier, among others) and gave them new life, both literally and figuratively. It’s seen a return on its investment, as Ryder’s name now runs synonymous with the show’s and the series itself has been the recipient of a multitude of awards. 

It remains to be seen how well a show can do in the long-term when not having to promote its cast. While some can begin to grow its cast with them (as is the case of Game of Thrones, whose audience witnessed the actors from a young age), others are subjected to actors that are already well-versed in the acting world like Netflix’s House of Cards, featuring actors from a number of famous projects before joining the series. However, no matter how familiar they are to larger screens, famous actors continue to venture toward the smaller ones for better roles.