I wouldn’t say I’m a Katherine Heigl fan. To be honest, I don’t really care either way about Katherine Heigl. But tonight, the actress is making her (welcomed?) return to television, and whether you love her or hate her, it’s a fascinating comeback.
Less than five years after an unceremonious departure from “Grey’s Anatomy” — amid rumors of conflict between Heigl and basically anybody and everybody behind-the-scenes — Heigl is starring in and producing NBC’s “State of Affairs,” a White House-set political drama costarring Alfre Woodard (“12 Years a Slave”) as the President of the United States.
Heigl rose to prominence playing Dr. Izzie Stevens on ABC’s hit medical drama. In 2007, she won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress — beating out two “Sopranos” stars and two of her own “Grey’s” costars. That same year, the actress starred in “Knocked Up,” ushering in one of the swiftest movie star rise-and-falls in recent memory. (It doesn’t help that Heigl’s ascension corresponded with the exact time of death of the entire romantic comedy genre.) After peaking in 2009 with “The Ugly Truth” ’s $205 million haul, Heigl’s next five releases — from “Killers” to “The Big Wedding” — were both critically and commercially savaged.
What’s strange is just how quickly Heigl has decided to return to television. After clashing with the writers on “Grey’s Anatomy,” publicly withdrawing her name from Emmy consideration in 2008 because she didn’t feel she was given material worthy of any awards, Heigl wisely chose to pursue her burgeoning film career. But after the big screen chewed her up and spit her out so fast, Heigl was at a crossroads; her decision to return to the small screen is so soon that the series she abandoned is still one of television’s highest-rated dramas.
In early 2012, Taylor Kitsch, like Heigl, was poised to become one of Hollywood’s fastest-rising stars. Kitsch made a name for himself playing fullback Tim Riggins on NBC/DirecTV’s “Friday Night Lights.” One of the only members of the original Panthers team who remained a significant presence throughout all five seasons, Riggins was beleaguered, tortured and often drunk. But it was Kitsch’s portrayal that eased the character’s harsh exterior, making Riggins one of the series’ most sympathetic mainstays. In turn, for Kitsch to parlay his breakout role onto the big screen seemed to be the natural next step. Unfortunately, Kitsch’s up-and-coming career suffered back-to-back-to-back blows with “John Carter,” “Battleship” and “Savages.” And with each coming just two months after the last, his silver screen aspirations were over before you could say “Texas forever.”
And just as Heigl retreated back to the small screen, Kitsch has also chosen to cling to the medium that gave him his start. After nabbing a supporting role in HBO’s original movie “The Normal Heart,” the actor finally confirmed his involvement in the network’s hotly anticipated second season of “True Detective” last month. Whereas the transition from “Grey’s Anatomy” to “State of Affairs” is more of a lateral move, Kitsch will benefit from the added prestige a premium cable network brings. But nonetheless, the next phase of Kitsch’s career still mirrors that of Heigl’s.
Yes, the line between film and television is becoming increasingly blurred with more and more stars flocking to the small screen. But while the transition from movies to TV might be more fluid, moving from television to movies is one of the most difficult things for an actor to do. Even in this “golden age,” television is still a lifeboat for “prolific” actors who can’t quite make the switch to the big screen. Like Heigl and Kitsch, I imagine Aaron Paul only has a few more chances (strike one was last spring’s “Need For Speed”) before he’s relegated to taking the lead in a cable drama pilot.
NBC is doing everything it can to ensure “State of Affairs” takes off, premiering in “The Blacklist” ’s Monday night, post-“Voice” timeslot. But even if “State of Affairs” flops — a fate that falls upon a very large majority of new shows — Katherine Heigl would largely come out unscathed. Because ultimately, television, in all its glory, is a much more forgiving medium than the big screen, if not solely for the constant churn of series we’ve grown accustomed to. Does anybody remember “big star” Greg Kinnear’s FOX series “Rake?” It even premiered this year — its most recent episode airing in late June — before the network pulled the plug. What about “Harry’s Law,” Kathy Bates’ NBC star vehicle? Did you even know that Halle Berry was on TV every Wednesday night this summer on CBS’ “Extant?” Probably not, because when it comes down to it, audiences will most often hold stars accountable for their big screen flops than their small screen ones. It took years for Berry to rid herself of “Catwoman” clout, but “Extant” ’s very mediocre reception doesn’t hold the same weight or influence over the actress.
I probably wouldn’t call myself as a Katherine Heigl fan. I don’t know if many people would. But that shouldn’t make her return to television any less interesting. So tonight, you can find me watching “State of Affairs” at 10 p.m., wondering what she could have done differently.
Maybe I am more of a fan than I think?