Claire Danes managed it. So did Kevin Spacey and Alec Baldwin. Last week, the New York Times reported that John Goodman will star in a new TV show The Alpha House, the first attempt at original programming by Amazon, the e-commerce giant.
TV stars are now getting paid as well as film stars. Angelina Jolie, the highest-earning film actress, made $33 million last year. But Sofia Vergara, the Colombian-born star of ABC’s Modern Family, pulled in $30 million, the top spot for a TV actress.
There are signs of a similar trend in China. Television was once seen as a stepping stone into the film business. But that mindset is changing as more stars travel in the opposite direction.
Take actress Gao Yuanyuan. After leaving the TV world for film a decade ago Gao is back, starring in Let’s Get Married. The series, which began airing on CCTV and Hunan Satellite TV earlier this month, has received good reviews, with Gu getting most of the plaudits.
“It’s so surprising to see Gao on TV again but her vivid portrayal of a leftover woman [a term used to describe women that are unmarried over the age of 30] is charming,” a netizen wrote.
Starlet Zhou Xun, who appeared in Painted Skin and Cloud Atlas, has also announced her return to TV. She will appear in an adaptation of Red Sorghum, a wartime drama inspired by the novel by Mo Yan, the Nobel Prize winner. Set to air next year, it marks Zhou’s first TV appearance in a decade.
Television audiences will see other familiar faces decamping from the big screen too. Stars like Huang Xiaoming and Feng Shaofeng star in the historical dramas The Patriot Yue Fei and Lanling Wang, while Fan Bingbing will take the lead role in Wu Zetian, the account of China’s only empress. (Now an A-list movie star, Fan got her big breakthrough by appearing in the TV series Princess Pearl in 1999.)
So why the sudden rush back into the television schedules? Some Hollywood actors claim that movie scripts have got too formulaic and that better, more original roles can be found on TV. But that motivation doesn’t seem to apply in China. The more influential factor is remuneration as a wave of speculative capital washes through the entertainment industry, increasing the budget for television productions.
In fact, salaries for TV stars have been rising much faster than for the film industry.
In 2004, the highest paid TV actor was Chen Daoming and he was getting about Rmb100,000 ($16, 408) per episode. Four years later actress Hai Qing (our Red Star in issue 84) was earning about Rmb300,000 an episode. Last year, capitalising on the popularity of the hit series Lurk, actor Sun Honglei hiked his episode fees to Rmb600,000. And this year, Sun is reported to be demanding Rmb1.2 million per episode, according to Sohu Entertainment.
Those figure continue to rise. As we pointed out in WiC211, actress Sun Li could well have made more than even Sun when she was cast this year in the lavish drama Hot Mom.
“In the last 10 years, pay cheques for TV actors have jumped more than 10 times. That’s faster than home prices,” an insider told Sohu.
Despite the stellar growth at China’s box office, salaries for movie stars haven’t progressed at the same rapid rate.
Red Sorghum’s Zhou is reportedly receiving at least Rmb1 million an episode and an average series has 30 instalments. That promises to boost her bank balance by much more than the Rmb4.5 million she gets for a film.
Television also offers exposure to a huge audience, which can be helpful in securing other work, including commercial endorsements. During an event in Hangzhou to promote his own TV role, Huang Xiaoming admitted that he regrets earlier comments in which he pooh-poohed TV drama. “Now I realise it was wrong,” he told the media. “The TV drama market is large and well run, and the quality is getting better,” he explained. “Even Hollywood directors will shoot TV dramas [from time to time].” Huang endorses a slew of products, from Olay Men to Tissot Watches, so more exposure on primetime won’t harm his appeal with advertisers.
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