A-list actresses flock from silver screen to small screen

This year's female Emmy nominees list reads like a who's who of acting

Forget playing "the girlfriend" or "the mum".

Thanks to complex, original characters and female-centric plots, television is attracting Oscar-calibre movie stars to the small screen.

A-listers such as Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Susan Sarandon are flocking to TV and jostling for honours at this year's Emmy Awards on Sept 17.

And there is more to come. Oscar winners Julia Roberts and Penelope Cruz have their first big TV series lined up for next year, while five-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams is due to return to the small screen for the first time since 2005 as the star of HBO's Sharp Objects.

While actresses have long complained about the scarcity of good parts in Hollywood movies, this year's female Emmy nominees read like a who's who of acting.

Feud: Bette And Joan, starring Jessica Lange and Sarandon as Hollywood rivals Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, has 18 nominations.

Awards pundits see it in a close race for the limited series Emmy alongside Big Little Lies, a murder mystery against a backdrop of wife battering, adultery, rape and gossip, which scored 16 nominations. Big Little Lies stars Emmy nominees Kidman, Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern in a tale of rivalry and sisterhood in which men take a back seat. It was picked up and produced by Kidman and Witherspoon as their first starring roles in series television.

"There is an incredible audience for stories about women in different places in their lives, and not necessarily about their definitions of themselves in romantic ways," Witherspoon said.

She and Kidman chose to make Big Little Lies for TV rather than as a movie because of its ability to connect audiences with longer stories.

"The idea that the only prestige content is in movie theatres is a fallacy," said Witherspoon.

The idea that the only prestige content is in movie theatres is a fallacy Reese Witherspoon

"Our show was watched pretty much equally by men and women, so the idea that men don't want to watch stories about women is completely false.

"If anything, it felt that you were pulling back the curtain on female behaviour a bit for men, showing their interior lives, how they communicate and how they withhold."

This year's best actress contenders also include Elisabeth Moss as a Handmaid in the chilling TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood novel The Handmaid's Tale, Claire Foy as a young Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown, and Viola Davis as a criminal attorney in How To Get Away With Murder.

Ms Madeline Di Nonno, chief executive of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, said it was "inspiring to see such a full spectrum of female characters that are flawed and very relatable".

That is partly a result of the sheer number of TV programmes now on offer - around 400 scripted shows - and the creative freedom offered by disruptors such as streaming services Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, who have upended the traditional broadcast model with bold and commercial-free content.

She said it is also due to concrete steps by veteran TV showrunners like Feud's Ryan Murphy, How To Get Away With Murder's Shonda Rhimes and Jessica Jones' Melissa Rosenberg to hire more female writers, directors and women behind the camera. - REUTERS

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