Stiller's HBO Deal a Blow to Flailing Film Industry

Ben Stiller doesn’t have to work the boob tube circuit.

The star of those “Focker” films as well as the “Night at the Museum” franchise is a pretty safe bet in box office circles. So why did he just sign a deal with HBO to direct, produce and star in a new Jewish family comedy alongside Alan Alda?

Ben Stiller

A cynic might say it’s a sign Stiller feels insecure over the weak box office receipts for his last film, “Tower Heist.” Even mega-stars can be as paranoid as screen newbies. Why else would Will Smith sign up for “Men in Black III” after his drama “Seven Pounds” gave him a rare flop?

For Stiller, the chance to oversee his own HBO comedy offers the kind of creative outlet he can’t get with movies. And that’s a sad thing to say about an industry obsessed with remakes, sequels and other too safe bets.

HBO programs don’t consume an actor’s life like a broadcast sitcom or drama. The episode count can be roughly half of a network show commitment, leaving actors free to tackle other projects along the way. The bigger picture is the support HBO – and its cable competitor, Showtime – give to their programs. A new show isn’t yanked after two episodes if the initial ratings are poor. And the cable “suits” apparently don’t inundate the show’s cast and crew with notes on how to make the content better.

Just ask Dustin Hoffman, who signed on for his first HBO series “Luck” which debuts this Sunday. Here’s Hoffman describing why he turned to HBO after a career making one iconic film (“The Graduate”) after another (“Tootsie”).

You cannot do your best work in the (movie) studio system. They buck heads with people they shouldn’t buck heads with. At HBO, once they give a go, there is no committee, no meetings.

The next time a movie studio executive is bemoaning a plunge in ticket sales, he or she should remember Hoffman’s words as well as why Stiller may not be free for their next project.