What does a Television Actor do?

G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen
An actor typically starts off in small roles and works his way up to larger roles.
An actor typically starts off in small roles and works his way up to larger roles.

A television actor is someone who acts primarily on television programs. While actors may give performances live on stage, for film to be projected in movie theaters, or only using their voices over the radio, a television actor prefers or specializes in television performances. Many actors who work on television comedies or dramas will take acting classes to learn specific methods of acting to help in their performances.

Actors and models often use clear, simple portraits for their head shots.
Actors and models often use clear, simple portraits for their head shots.

Most television actors perform on recorded episodes of a television series. An actor on such a show may be part of the principal cast that appears in every episode, part of the supporting cast who will often appear but not necessarily in every episode, or make a guest appearance for a single or limited number of episodes. Principal cast members will usually be featured or listed during the opening credits of a television show to indicate their involvement and as a way of recognizing a television actor who is important to the show.

Television actors might take classes to gain additional knowledge of specific methods of acting.
Television actors might take classes to gain additional knowledge of specific methods of acting.

A member of the supporting cast on a television show will not usually be shown or listed during the opening credits of a program. That may change over time, and an actor may begin appearing during the beginning credits if a character becomes popular among viewers or writers of the show. Such supporting actors are usually not paid as well as the principal cast, but it can often be a great way for a new television actor to begin building his or her career.

A television actor may be part of the principal cast, or work in a supporting role.
A television actor may be part of the principal cast, or work in a supporting role.

Guest appearances on a television program can sometimes be made by actors who are already well known or renowned. This may be an appearance by a famous movie actor who does not typically appear on television shows or by an actor who is from another well-known program. Sometimes known as a “cameo,” this sort of appearance can help boost ratings for a show or allow the writers of the program to have characters from another show briefly appear on a different program.

Many television actors begin by performing in local theater productions.
Many television actors begin by performing in local theater productions.

Though being a television actor is sometimes viewed as less difficult or less worthy than being a movie actor, especially in the United States (US), that idea began to disappear during the late 20th century. During the mid-to-late 1990s, some very popular television actors began getting paid salaries that could rival those paid to film actors. Similarly, some shows began getting recognition for writing and storytelling that often surpassed some of the movies that were receiving awards each year. As this happened, the view of being a television actor changed and many such actors began to receive the respect they deserve.

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Discussion Comments

umbra21

@clintflint - I do think it's better than it used to be even a decade ago. There are plenty of mainstream shows these days with multiple people of color in the main cast.

I guess we'll know we're getting closer to equality when every race has their own representing television detective.

clintflint

@irontoenail - I don't think television producers actually know what the average person wants, to be honest. Look at how many amazing shows have been canceled over the years. The actors off Firefly are still basically considered for parts because of the strength of that show (as well as because of their talent of course) and it only ran for one season.

It also annoys me how few actors from television are people of color. There are so many shows where everyone in the main cast is white and then they try to look progressive by having one of them date someone of a different race for a couple of episodes. I'd love for more POC actors to get jobs and to see more of them on the screen.

irontoenail

I'm glad that television actors are getting the respect that they deserve now. Television in general has become really good recently, I guess because there is so much choice that shows need to be amazing in order to bring in the viewers.

They can also go a little bit niche with the shows, as they try to target advertising.

Unfortunately, I have noticed that in some ways this works against shows and acting. I know a couple of actors who were cast simply because they were popular rather than because they were right for the role. And you also get characters who end up stagnant because they should have left the show ages ago, but the audience loves them too much to let them go.

Sometimes catering too much to the audience isn't actually a good idea because what they want isn't always the best thing.

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    • An actor typically starts off in small roles and works his way up to larger roles.
      By: Haider Yousuf
      An actor typically starts off in small roles and works his way up to larger roles.
    • Actors and models often use clear, simple portraits for their head shots.
      By: Warren Goldswain
      Actors and models often use clear, simple portraits for their head shots.
    • Television actors might take classes to gain additional knowledge of specific methods of acting.
      By: Edyta Pawlowska
      Television actors might take classes to gain additional knowledge of specific methods of acting.
    • A television actor may be part of the principal cast, or work in a supporting role.
      By: oneinchpunch
      A television actor may be part of the principal cast, or work in a supporting role.
    • Many television actors begin by performing in local theater productions.
      By: jilt
      Many television actors begin by performing in local theater productions.
    • Television actors might provide narration for commercials.
      By: David Stuart
      Television actors might provide narration for commercials.
    • Acting begins with classes to teach aspiring actors different methods and techniques.
      By: kmiragaya
      Acting begins with classes to teach aspiring actors different methods and techniques.