It doesn’t feel like summer without new episodes of Mad Men on the horizon, and we’re all pretty depressed about it. Presumably sensing this, star Jon Hamm has given us a tidbit of interesting information about the show’s eventual season premiere: he’ll be directing it himself.
Hamm will follow in the footsteps of co-star John Slattery, who helmed two episodes last season (“I watched Slattery do it, and he handled it with such grace and ability and ease,” Hamm told TV Line, adding, “I figured if he can do it, shit, I can do it too”). But if he warms to the experience, he could very well be the next in a long line of television stars who used their own shows as a film school, learning the directorial ropes before tackling feature film projects. (Some who you’d think would make this list, by the way, actually directed for their shows after directing films; Zach Braff and John Krasinski, for example). Few have yielded cinematic masterpieces, but some have made some interesting pictures; after the jump, take a look at our ten TV-actors-turned-TV-directors-turned-filmmakers.
Duchovny become a star by playing Fox Mulder on the cult hit The X-Files, but as the series continued, he found other ways to occupy himself on the show — writing several episodes and directing three (including the well-received “meta-episode” “Hollywood A.D.,” with Duchovny’s friend Garry Shandling playing Mulder in a film, opposite Duchovny’s wife Tea Leoni). After leaving the show in a contract dispute, Duchovny focused on film: acting for Ivan Reitman (Evolution) and Steven Soderbergh (Full Frontal), then writing, directing, and co-starring in his own film, House of D, which featured Leoni, Erykah Badu, and Robin Williams. Critics panned it (Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers complained that Duchovny has a “tin ear for dialogue”) and audiences stayed away; Duchovny most recently directed four episodes of his Showtime series Californication.
When the series version of Robert Altman’s hit film M*A*S*H debuted in 1972, Alan Alda was but a humble actor — albeit in the showcase role of wisecracking surgeon “Hawkeye” Pierce. But by the show’s second season, he was trying his hand at writing (he ended up penning 19 episodes) and directing. He helmed 32 episodes of the show, including the feature-length final episode, parlaying his success there into four theatrical features from 1981 to 1990 — The Four Seasons, Sweet Liberty, A New Life, and Betsy’s Wedding — which he wrote, directed, and co-starred in.
Unlike his Friends castmates, who have all struggled to find appropriate vehicles on screens big and small since that smash series ended in 2004, David Schwimmer has mostly stayed behind the cameras, cultivating a rather successful directorial career. He started directing for Friends in 1999, and did ten episodes of the show, in addition to two episodes of Matt LeBlanc’s short-lived Joey spin-off and engagements of six editions of Little Britain USA. He made his theatrical filmmaking debut with the 2007 Simon Pegg vehicle Run Fatboy Run; his follow-up Trust was dubbed “one of the year’s best films” by Roger Ebert.
Paul Michael Glaser
Glaser, aka “Starsky” on Starksy and Hutch, cut his directorial teeth with five episodes of that show. Once his acting career had cooled a bit in the 1980s, he focused on directing, helming three episodes of Miami Vice before making his feature directorial debut with Vice producer Michal Mann’s film Band of the Hand. His other credits include the Schwarzenegger vehicle The Running Man, the Kevin-Bacon-goes-to-Africa-to-find-basketball-players “comedy” The Air Up There, and the immortal Shaq-is-a-genie picture Kazaam. The last two were directed under the name “Paul M. Glaser,” as was his most enduring work: the 1992 figure skating melodrama The Cutting Edge.
When I Spy premiered in 1965, the press and awards mostly focused on co-star Bill Cosby, the first African-American actor to play a leading role in a dramatic television series. But much of what made Cosby — a novice actor — so good on the show was his chemistry with the great Robert Culp. Culp, meanwhile, was working on expanding his resume; he wrote seven episodes (having previously penned episodes his earlier shows Trackdown and The Rifleman, among others) and directed one of them. That experience helped him take on directorial duties for Hickey & Boggs, a 1972 feature film that reteamed him with Cosby. Working from a tough, lean screenplay by Walter Hill, this no-nonsense neo-noir was unfortunately overlooked in its initial theatrical release and has been mostly mistreated on home video (the out of print DVD utilizes a terrible pan-and-scan transfer). But it has slowly found an audience, for good reason; like The Long Goodbye, Night Moves, and even Chinatown, it is a wonderfully hard-nosed, ’70s-era take on a long-gone genre. However, due to its weak box office, it was Culp’s only theatrical directing credit; he later wrote and directed a couple of episodes of his 1980s series The Greatest American Hero.
Johnson already had a couple of TV directing credits when he helmed five episodes of Homicide: Life on the Streets, in which he appeared as Detective Meldrick Lewis. But the juggling of those duties seemed to double the opportunities of the talented writer/actor, who has accumulated hefty credits in both fields; he’s directed for several popular shows (including NYPD Blue, The Shield, and The West Wing), directed feature films (such as S.W.A.T., The Sentinel, and the HBO movie Boycott), and appeared in supporting roles in both. Most memorably, he directed three first-season episodes of The Wire (including the show’s first two episodes), did other projects during the show’s next three seasons, and then returned for season five as both an actor — playing the role of city editor “Gus” Haynes, one of the season’s most memorable characters — and a director, for the show’s final episode.
Edward James Olmos
Olmos got his first break as a director on Miami Vice, where he played Lt. Martin Castillo; he directed the second season episode “Bushido.” Seven years later, Olmos directed (and starred in) American Me, an epic portrait of a Mexican-American Mafia kingpin. Though it was not initially a popular success, it later found a faithful audience on home video; his other directorial credits include the TV movie Walkout and several episodes of Battlestar Galactica, on which he co-starred as Admiral William Adama.
Webb’s first major acting appearance was in a film called He Walked By Night, a crime procedural inspired by the murder of a California Highway Patrolman. The film’s “based on a true story” approach intrigued Webb, who pitched a radio series taken from police files; the result was Dragnet, a smash hit that quickly transitioned to television in 1951. It ran both on radio and television until 1954; with Webb directing episodes of the television show from the very beginning. He then directed a film version of the show in 1954; his other filmmaking efforts included Pete Kelly’s Blues and The D.I., in addition to every episode of Dragnet’s late 1960s revival (which included the infamous “LSD Story,” which we couldn’t resist including below).
Kojak, the CBS detective series about the lollipop-sucking New York City police detective, was such a giant hit that not only was star Telly Savalas given the opportunity to try his hand at directing the show, he was entrusted to write, direct, and star in a major motion picture. His 1977 feature directorial debut, Beyond Reason, was the story of Dr. Nicholas Mati (Savalas), a psychiatrist who begins to lose his grip on reality. It was poorly received by critics and audiences; Savalas directed two more episodes of Kojak but focused on acting for the rest of his career.
We have Moonlightingto thank for many things that are good in this world: the career of Bruce Willis, the return of Cybil Shepard, the brief flash of screwball comedy on television in the 1980s. But they also got some ‘splainin’ to do when it comes to Dennis Dugan. The likable actor was brought on to the series late in the run, playing Walter Bishop, who Shepard’s Maddie spontaneously married a few hours after they met. The show’s writers hoped this love triangle would reignite the romantic tension that had been snuffed out by the show’s regrettable third-season consummation of Dave (Willis) and Maddie’s relationship, but no such luck; the Walter plot didn’t play, and Dugan was gone after four episodes. But the show’s producers let Dugan stick around to direct five episodes in the show’s fifth and final season — and a new career began for the actor. The results? Problem Child, Beverly Hills Ninja, The Benchwarmers, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Grown-Ups, and Just Go With It, among others. And there you have one more reason to hate the last season of Moonlighting.
Do you think Hamm will make a good director? And what other TV actors would you like to see take a shot at directing?