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Secret Agent Man

How to Advance Your TV Career

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How to Advance Your TV Career
Photo Source: Steve Weigl

The following question was posted on the Secret Agent Man message board: “I have 10 co-star credits on my résumé, all from network shows. Honestly, for all the running around and low pay, I’m not particularly interested in doing many more. I think they’ve served their purpose, establishing some kind of casting credibility. I asked my agent about this, and he explained that he does pitch me for larger roles, but the casting directors mainly want to see names or make the roles offer only. So how do you go about getting your clients from the co-star level to the guest star level?”

First of all, I want to congratulate this actor for taking charge of his career. I’m thrilled that after building up his résumé with small parts, he’s decided to pursue larger and more rewarding work.

Second, let me address the agent’s response. He’s a liar. The guy is trying to cover up his own weakness by laying the blame on casting directors. Every single guest star role on television is being offered out to name actors? That’s nonsense. Sure, some of them are, but there’s still plenty of work to go around. Just try watching a few TV shows. I’m sure you’ll see plenty of people working at the guest star level who aren’t famous. 

So the big question is this: How do I move a co-star actor up to the next level? Well, before I can do anything, the client has to be willing to pass on auditions that come in for co-star roles. That’s easier said than done because most actors are afraid to say no to an opportunity, especially when it’s coming from a casting director. But that’s exactly what you have to do. A clear message has to be sent that you’re looking to move up the food chain. And don’t worry about upsetting your casting fans. They’ll understand. You’re not the first actor to make this jump. 

The next move involves a dose of reality. Most co-star actors aren’t ready for huge top-of-show guest star parts, but luckily, one-day guest stars are just as valuable. So let’s discuss the difference, using network dramas as an example.

Top-of-show guest stars are what every actor wants. When you book one, casting buys you for the entire episode. On a network drama, that’s eight days. So even if you only work three, you’re on hold for the other five. That covers production if they have to change the schedule. 

The top-of-show rate for a network drama is $7,674. Your billing will appear in the main titles at the beginning of the show on a single card, all by itself. 

A one-day guest star is just that: a substantial role that only works one day. The rate is based on your quote and level of experience. That figure can range from $1,500 to $3,000 a day. Your billing will appear in the main titles at the beginning of the show on a shared card with another actor, maybe two. 

The good news is that every guest star part, even if it only works one day, is listed the same way on your résumé. So if you can book a few, your résumé will have three eye-catching guest star credits on top, followed by a bunch of co-stars. That shows growth. And that’s how you move your career up to the next level. 

Now here’s the thing. There are plenty of actors in this business who are happy working as co-stars. They seem to enjoy doing a few lines here and there. But that’s a tough way to make a living. And where’s the challenge? Those roles rarely have any substance. So why not aim for more? 

It’s like Tom Hardy’s character said in “Inception”: “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.”   

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