Film roles boost sitcom stars

'Marshall' may take auds home to 'Mother'

Stars of struggling sitcoms, take note: Landing a big, juicy role in a feature film might be a good way to turn around those flagging Nielsen numbers.

It certainly helped “The Office.” NBC’s now-beloved Thursday laffer started morphing into a hit after series star Steve Carrell toplined “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

Peacock brass are now hoping to see a similar spark for the modestly rated “30 Rock” thanks to star Tina Fey’s turn in the just-released “Baby Mama.”

And over at CBS, there’s early evidence that Jason Segel’s toplining “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” has brought a few new eyes to “How I Met Your Mother.”

“It’s status conferral,” says NBC U marketing chief John Miller. “When someone from a TV show is in a big movie, there’s a sense of an elevated role (in the pop culture landscape). There’s definitely a positive relationship.”

The biggest bump shows get comes from the massive PR campaigns thesps do on behalf of their pics. In addition to making the rounds of the talkshow circuit, Fey has been on nearly a dozen magazine covers in recent weeks, while Segel (and his private parts) have been the subject of countless newspaper articles.

“So many of the articles also refer to ‘HIMYM’ ” says 20th Century Fox TV chairman Gary Newman. “I think there’s no question that the publicity for the movie brings an enormous amount of attention to the show. The hope is that maybe viewers who recognize Jason will give ‘HIMYM’ a try.”

It certainly doesn’t hurt: The first episode of “Mother” following “Sarah Marshall’s” $17 million-plus opening weekend saw the CBS series add nearly 500,000 viewers from the week before.

Skeins also benefit from all the paid advertising studios buy on behalf of movies.

For example, spots for “Baby Mama” appear on CBS, ABC and Fox, Miller notes. “That means you’re having one of our stars (Fey) appear on our competition in a comedic way,” he says.

On the downside, the demands of movie promo tours mean showrunners often find themselves with stars who aren’t around as much as usual.

Segel, for example, has missed a few table reads and run-throughs, says “Mother” exec producer Carter Bays. “But the better ‘Sarah Marshall’ does, the better it is for everyone. The more people who see the movie, the more people there are who might realize, ‘Hey, I can get (Segel) every week on CBS.”

Eye execs no doubt are hoping “Mother” will get another bump this week thanks to the opening of “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay,” which features “Mother” co-star Neil Patrick Harris.

In addition to the possible ratings spikes, buzz surrounding individual thesps helps a series build stature with critics and network execs.

“It adds comic credibility to a show when you have someone who’s a big comedy movie star in your cast,” Newman says. “Your actors getting a chance to appear in movies is a big part of keeping a show relevant and buzzworthy. It just creates heat on a series.”

Indeed, NBC brass have made frequent mention of their happiness over Jason Lee’s star turn in “The Chipmunk Movie” — even though ratings for “My Name Is Earl” haven’t been red-hot since the movie opened.

And Eye blurbmeisters ran a promo for “Mother” taking note of Segel’s newfound movie stardom, complete with a montage of magazine stories pumping up his new pic.

While networks are always happy to see their comedy stars on the bigscreen, corporate politics plays a role in just how much love they show.

NBC has been banging the drums loudly on behalf “Baby Mama” in part because the pic comes from sibling studio Universal Pictures. Same was true for “40-Year-Old Virgin.”

“It’s in our culture to help Universal pictures, even if they don’t feature NBC stars,” Miller says. “But when they do have our stars, there’s a little more relevance for us.”

Indeed, NBC now regularly gives major U releases free promo time during Peacock primetime programming — including bottom-of-the-screen “snipes” in which the movie’s logo and release date are prominently displayed.

Ironically, NBC seems to have done much more than CBS to help “Sarah Marshall.” The fact that the movie was produced by Universal trumped the fact that it features a major CBS star.

By contrast, NBC isn’t planning any big promo push for Carrell’s next summer movie, “Get Smart.”

“I think that’s a Warner Bros. movie,” Miller observes.

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