On Thursday night, Viola Davis was live-tweeting the season finale of her ABC drama series How To Get Away With Murder. On Sunday night, she won an Oscar for her role in Fences.
In addition to Davis, Ruth Negga, a lead actress Oscar nominee for Loving, is the female lead of the AMC drama series Preacher. And Mahershala Ali, supporting Oscar winner for Moonlight, was segueing from this three-and-a-half season stint on Netflix’s House of Cards to a season-long arc on the streaming network’s Luke Cage when he landed the role in Barry Jenkins’ film. Both Negga and Ali had been working steadily in TV, Negga was on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. before Preacher, Ali on Tremé and Alphas.
Meanwhile, Empire star Taraji P. Henson starred in this year’s Best Picture Oscar nominee Hidden Figures while on the hit Fox drama. And as the Oscars were airing on ABC with supporting actress nominee Nicole Kidman in the front row, HBO aired a new episode of limited series Big Little Lies, toplined by Kidman and fellow Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon.
Emma Stone, lead actress Oscar winner for La La Land, is heading into production on a Netflix series, Maniac. The fourth acting Oscar winner tonight, Casey Affleck, segued from Manchester By the Sea to HBO’s limited series Lewis and Clark, which subsequently stopped production and was put in redevelopment.
It is rare for an actor on a current TV series to win an Academy Award. Helen Hunt did it for As Good As It Gets in 1998 while she was on the NBC comedy Mad About You. (She also won an Emmy in the same year, a feat Davis and Ali have a chance of replicating.) Melissa McCarthy was nominated for an Oscar for Bridesmaids while on CBS’ Mike & Molly. Patricia Arquette won for Boyhood as she was embarking on CSI: Cyber. Matthew McConaughey delivered his Oscar-winning performance in Dallas Buyers Club alongside his starring role in the first installment of HBO’s True Detective.
How to explain the influx of working TV actors in this year’s Oscar field? Television has been evolving to a place where shorter orders are common, allowing actors to have movie careers along with TV ones. Preacher, House of Cards and Luke Cage all produce 13 episodes a year, Maniac will do 10. HTGAWM only films 15 episodes a season vs. the standard 22 for a broadcast series, a requirement Davis had in order to sign on for the series. Empire‘s seasons consist of 18 episodes each. Additionally, limited and anthology series are enjoying a renaissance, attracting A-list actors.
HTGAWM was quick to congratulate its star on her big win:
Both Davis and Ali already had earned TV accolades — Davis has two back-to-back Emmy nominations and one win for HTGAWM. Ali was an Emmy nominee last year for House Of Cards. Henson also is a two-time Emmy nominee for Empire. But while Davis’ HTGAWM, Negga‘s Preacher and Henson’s Empire have been renewed for another season, Ali exited House of Cards in Season 4 and only committed to Luke Cage for one season as his feature career took off with The Hunger Games franchise and four movies in 2016, including two Best Picture nominees, winner Moonlight and Hidden Figures. He doesn’t seem to be looking back:
“All due respect to House of Cards,” he told Extra after his Oscar win tonight. “They created an opening for me to be able to do this work and move forward. I also wouldn’t be able to be here if I stayed on the show, so it was just time to move on. I just wanted to be more fulfilled as an actor.”