Costarring? Featuring? With?
March 27, 2005 9:54 PM   Subscribe

What is the rationale behind television shows (mostly older ones) and some movies listing the actors in the program in "groups"? Usually they list the main ones as "starring" or "costarring", but sometimes there's also some people that are "featured", and some go so far as to list someone at the end with a "With...". Something like "Special Guest Star" is obvious, but I'm curious as to the rules for how they pick who is a star, who is "featured", and who is barely a "with".
posted by robbie01 to Media & Arts (9 answers total)
It's contractual -- one of the things actors negotiate for. Basically, you want to be in a group with as few other people as possible, and either early or late in the credits (late is generally considered better, but I know being in the middle is considered very low prestige, because people won't notice your name if it's mixed in with a bunch of others). If you're a really big star you might have the clout to get them to invent a new grouping for you -- I seem to recall that this is how "Special Guest Star" came to exist.
posted by kindall at 10:06 PM on March 27, 2005

The rule is: It's all about money. Credits (and the order in which actors are billed) reflect how much money the actor got paid for the job, and how much they will get paid in residuals when the show is rerun.
posted by jjg at 10:06 PM on March 27, 2005

I seem to recall reading, back when Melrose Place was on, that Heather Locklear's 'Special Guest Star' (or whatever) status in the opening credits was specifically mentioned in her contract.

Here's an old Straight Dope column on this topic.
posted by box at 10:13 PM on March 27, 2005

And here's a 1999 (Pittsburgh) Post-Gazette article that I found when I was looking for Locklear's specific credit.
posted by box at 10:16 PM on March 27, 2005

late is generally considered better

I meant "earlier is generally considered better."

But there comes a point where you're in the middle of the credits, and at that point, later is better. Last billing, especially if set off by "with" or "and" or something, is considered almost as good as top billing, or so I'm given to understand. Your name will be the last thing viewers see before the actual show begins... etc.
posted by kindall at 10:27 PM on March 27, 2005

Yes, contractual. Though not necessarily tied to a level of income; more like one of the many negotiable incentives that may be offered/accepted in lieu of financial incentives. Trailer size and amenties, credit with callout, credit SIZE and POSITION ("Spin City", is an example of how multiple stars get credited: one person is "first", i.e. left of screen, but lower; the other on the right but higher. So each has their little ego rationale for believing their "co-equal" credit is the slightly better one), number of seconds onscreen, whose names if any are allowed to show up on screen before yours...that's just the tip of the contractual iceberg.

Late in the credits isn't usually considered more presitigious. But being last, with a special callout, definitely is.

A lot of times it happens because someone with clout joined a show later, after everyone else's credits are already written in stone. Since Star A's contract stipulates their name appears first and solo, and Co-Star B's contract stipulates that their name appears immediately after A's, etc. the domino effect leaves new castmember MegaWatt Star Z with last place (or, yuck, some random spot in the middle...) by default. Thus the special callout with final credit.

Sometimes it's also used for job promotion or marketing purposes. Someone has a small role, but their mere association with the show/film has become so marketable, that the callout is used to shout out "yo, fans of Actor X, take note of who we've got for you!"

Because it's perceived as a prestige credit, sometimes it also gets used to buy talent cheap by throwing in a callout offer to make up for a lousy salary. When there's a whole string of different callouts in a row ("and", "and as ____" "with" "also starring", "special guest star", "and introducing" etc.), that's likely what you're seeing.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:36 AM on March 28, 2005

The big takeaway being there is no rule for actor credits -- it's catch as catch can.

You may be interested to know that writer and director credits are the exact opposite: placement and verbiage is highly regulated by guild contracts (which non-union producers nevertheless end up observing to a great extent). Television and movies have somewhat different writer and director rules, reflecting, for the most part, the relative inferiority of the director's status in television versus a director's paramount status in movies.

The level of detail in the rules is too great to go into in a post, but a taste of this is that the ampersand character ("&") and the spelled out word "and" mean completely different things in writer credits (ampsersand implies two collaborating writers, while "and" implies that one writer rewrote the other writers work.
posted by MattD at 5:33 AM on March 28, 2005

I heard somewhere that the "Special Guest Star" thing came first happened withLost In Space. The actor who played the doctor (Jonathan Harris) wouldn't do the show without special billing, and the first billing etc. was already set up in the contract for the series' actual leads, so they made him a special guest star every week.

(To be clear, I'm not saying they didn't have guest stars before 1965, but rather that this was the first case where an actor was billed this way every week.)
posted by SoftRain at 7:30 AM on March 28, 2005

I asked a similar question a few months ago, which led to some illuminating answers.
posted by googly at 6:57 PM on March 28, 2005

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