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With Sunday's return of "The Walking Dead" drawing 15.8 million total viewers and 10.4 million viewers in the key 18-49 demographic, you've gotta wonder: Why aren't the leads bigger stars, given that the show is No. 1 among viewers ages 18 to 49?
That's a good question — one that lead actor Andrew Lincoln may also be wondering. (That's his name, by the way: Andrew Lincoln. The guy playing the sheriff who bears that never-ending hangup about whether he's a good leader.) Lincoln recently switched agencies and signed with CAA, a outfit known for making and maintaining A-list movie stars such as Sandra Bullock, Natalie Portman, and Brad Pitt.
Of course, the reason why Lincoln's name isn't on the lips of Wisconsin hausfraus may have nothing to do with his agents and everything to do with his series. On a zombie show, the guy with the badge and the existential crises isn't the star. The ghouls are the stars. Even post-apocalyptic bachelor of the year Norman Reedus suddenly gets kind of forgettable when a horde of undead comes shambling out of the weeds.
See the cast on "Conan":
"The cast of a genre show almost never gets the kind of recognition other projects do," talent manager Marrissa O'Leary tells me. "Ask your audience to tell you who Nicole Beharie is. She's the female lead in 'Sleepy Hollow,' the closest thing to genre we have on network television right now.
"Get away from teenage girls and [ask] someone else to name you the stars of 'The Vampire Diaries' or 'Supernatural.'"
There's one other possible reason why Lincoln and other "Walking Dead" stars don't appear in films more often: Schedule. The shooting calendar for "The Walking Dead" is brutal. We're talking about a workload that eats up seven to eight months of the year, according to what the show's reps just told me.
So imagine for a second that you're Lincoln, and you have a wife as well as two kids whom you'd like to see more than one month out of the year. You're not going to take movie projects, which can take another six weeks or more just to shoot. That doesn't include the amount of time an actor spends doing promotion for the flick.
"Honestly, 'The Walking Dead' just seems like a really taxing show," says Deadline's Michael Fleming. "It's very possible that these guys just don't have the time."
(In contrast, getting killed off "The Walking Dead" does seem to have its career advantages; just ask Jon "Shane" Bernthal, who, since his character died — twice — has appeared in the films "Grudge Match" and "The Wolf of Wall Street" and gotten his own TV show, "Mob City.")
Even single TV actors can have a hard time fitting in movies during their hiatuses. "True Blood's" Alexander Skarsgaard, a rare example of a TV vampire with a recognizable name, once managed to shoot two films during a hiatus. But that decision barely left him time to catch his breath before returning to the HBO show.
"I probably aged about 20 years doing that," he told me in 2010. "Doing 'Straw Dogs' and 'Puss' simultaneously and then going back to 'True Blood'? That kept me on my toes."
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Leslie Gornstein is an entertainment writer and the host of the weekly Hollywood gossip podcast The Fame Fatale.