Pic stars segue to tube careers

Waterston, Williams, Griffiths find prestige in TV work

It’s no secret that in the minds of actors, TV has long been considered a second-class option when compared to the prestige of film work. But there are several actors giving exceptional performances on TV who came to the medium — without apology — after a successful run on the bigscreen.

“There was living to be made in television, doing really interesting work,” says Sam Waterston, an eight-time Emmy nominee (thrice for his role on “Law & Order”), who also earned an Oscar nom for his performance in 1984’s “The Killing Fields.”

“Television has a quicker turnover time, so it can deal frankly with current events in a way that movies are almost automatically going to be in second place with,” he adds.

“There’s no question that when I started out in my career, TV was a step down,” reveals Treat Williams, star of the WB series “Everwood.” “Film actors who couldn’t make it would slide back into TV. What’s been wonderful about the cable channels is that they’re creating an atmosphere of competition that’s healthy. They’ve challenged the networks to rethink their programming. And because we’re on a smaller network, our show is brave and takes chances.”

“I love the consistency,” says Rachel Griffiths, who was Oscar nominated for “Hilary and Jackie” in 1999 and earned an Emmy nom last year for HBO’s “Six Feet Under.” “I love coming back a second or third season to the same character. You can bring new things to it.

“People were surprised that I would do ‘Six Feet Under,’ but in Australia, we get a lot of British television, and I grew up seeing fantastic actors on TV. There definitely wasn’t a divisional fence between film and TV.”

Age, of course, is one of the biggest reasons veterans return to the small screen.

“I’m too old for most of these movies,” says Whoopi Goldberg, set to star this fall in her own NBC sitcom, “Whoopi.”

“The place where I can have the most fun and be as good as I can is probably TV … until someone comes up with a part that’s of my age and build and taste.”

“I won’t sit by the phone waiting for somebody to tell me I’m over 50 and too old (for movie parts),” says Jane Seymour, a former James Bond babe and star of the ’90s series “Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman,” which is syndicated on the Hallmark Channel. “The really great character roles I’ve been offered over the last 30 years have been on television. And the more I did on the small screen, the more I became well-known globally, because my shows had high foreign sales. I raised my children on ‘Dr. Quinn.’ I can’t think of a more fabulous experience if I tried.”