Network fantasy NO. 1. It's 2007. Tom Cruise has just turned 45. He gets a call from his agent, who dubiously pitches a new spy thriller produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Only it's a TV series. Shockingly, Cruise doesn't hang up. He wants to know where it's being shot. In L.A., not too far from his house. What channel? FX, which is throwing a ton of money at the script, written by some ex-Sopranos writers. Ridley Scott might direct the first episode. Cruise is interested. Frankly, he wants to spend more time with his kids. And with cable, he can take as many risks as he would on film. He tells his agent to make an offer.
Hey, we said it was a fantasy.
''Obviously, you don't think Tom Cruise is gonna do a series, but at some point he may get tired of flying around the world,'' says Peter Golden, executive VP of casting at CBS. ''We all hope we'll hit on one or two who, for lifestyle reasons, may decide it's time to sink their teeth into a really great, meaty role they can live with for a while.''
Like Glenn Close, for example, who has taken the bait without budging from the big screen's A list. Set to debut on the FX drama The Shield on March 15, the five-time Oscar nominee has at least two films due in 2005. Also possibly coming to TV: Chris O'Donnell (Kinsey) in next fall's Fox legal drama Crazy Lawyers and Aidan Quinn (Legends of the Fall) as an unconventional man of the cloth in NBC's Book of Daniel.
''With a big name,'' says one NBC comedy scribe, ''the network knows it's going to get [big viewership] from that first episode and that the press will write about it.''
But not every film actor can follow the successful lead of James Caan (Las Vegas), Patricia Arquette (Medium), or William Petersen, whom CBS courted for nearly a decade before luring him to CSI. ''To carry a TV series, an actor has to have an incredible depth and presence, some command,'' says Golden. ''That makes the list very small.'' Expensive, too.
Unlike the typical $40,000 to $75,000 an episode for B-level stars, A-listers can command anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000—a price tag that comes with no guarantees, as recent flops starring Bette Midler (CBS' Bette), Joan Cusack (ABC's What About Joan), and Gabriel Byrne (ABC's Madigan Men) prove. ''It's one of the axioms of TV,'' concedes talent manager Ron West (Eva Longoria). ''Everybody wants stars, yet it's a higher-risk venture than everybody is willing to own up to.''