|Rob Owen (Vancouver Province)|
Everyone wants credit for the work he does but in the world of TV sometimes it's not enough for an actor to have his or her name in the opening credits.
Actors want top billing but when that's not available, there are other opportunities to make them stand apart from fellow cast members. The key words are "and," "with" or "and as."
The opening credits on Ally McBeal list all the stars leading up to Peter MacNicol, who gets "with" before his name, and then Gil Bellows, who gets "and" in front of his name.
"It's an incentive beyond the salary, a perk," said Peter Golden, senior vice-president of talent and casting for CBS. "It says, 'We know you're special, we'll give you special billing.'"
Ron West, an agent at International Creative Management, whose clients include Juliana Margulies (ER), Andy Dick (NewsRadio) and David Boreanaz (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), said first billing is ideal, naturally.
"Second billing becomes second most ideal and, depending on who you ask, third billing or last becomes the next most preferable," West said.
When billed last, the actor's name is usually preceded by "and," which West said is "a way of drawing attention to somebody and distinguishing a particular actor from the others.
"'With' is thrown in when somebody else requires a certain amount of distinction and the 'and' is already given away," he said.
Then there are more creative solutions. When Christine Lahti joined the cast of Chicago Hope in its second season, she got her name put first in the credits -- on alternating weeks. If you watch carefully, some weeks Lahti's name comes first, other weeks Adam Arkin gets top billing.
"That is one way of doing it, but it's a very expensive proposition to change the names in the credits every week," Golden said. "It's a way of satisfying a lot of actors and their deals."
Golden said agents like the perk of a special credit because it makes their client feel like he or she is getting something others are not. Casting directors are happy to give that credit if it means securing a talented actor who fits the role.
Recent special billing includes Heather Locklear, who is listed as a "special guest star" on Melrose Place even though she's been on the show as a regular since midway through its first season.
Golden points to the famous Laverne & Shirley credits, with Penny Marshall's name in one corner of the screen at the same time Cindy Williams' name appears in another corner.
West said a new series this season, also with co-leads, uses the same method of crediting its stars. In the opening of Will & Grace, the names of actors Eric McCormack (Will) and Debra Messing (Grace) appear on the screen simultaneously.
On some programs, including Friends, the cast is listed in alphabetical order, another way to resolve the sticky issue of who gets what billing.