Hunks of Burning Flesh, Part 1: The Leading Man

TV Consultants answer: What makes a leading man?

You are sitting on the couch, remote in one hand and a bowl of potato chips in the other, and you realize that you do not remember the last time you blinked. You adjust the volume. You nibble a chip. You wiggle your toes to make sure the old nervous system is still working. And then you think, “Yeah, I’m being entertained. But something is missing.”

But what? The TV Consultants are here to tell you.

It might be witty dialogue; it might be sex appeal; it might be real emotion; it might be that your TV is tuned to TLC rather than Fox. It might be any number of things, but I am going to focus on one:

The Leading Man

For example, Cary Grant.

Watching a show without a good leading man is like drinking coffee without cream, mashing potatoes without butter, or eating basically any food type without a healthy dose of salt and pepper. (Are you telling me you don’t do that?) In any case, it is just not the same.

Can you imagine this without butter?

You ask: But how can you TELL if the show you are watching has a good leading man or not?

Okay, so maybe you don’t ask. But we did, and that led to more questions. What sets a good leading man apart? Is it a twinkle in the eyes, a crinkly smile, broad shoulders, or a Roman nose? Is it confidence, charisma, tone of voice, or emoting skill?

What makes us remember men like Paul Newman, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, and Steve McQueen?

Why do we remember that Clark Gable frankly doesn’t give a damn?

Gone with the Wind

that Burt Lancaster looks good in a Speedo?

From Here To Eternity

From Here To Eternity

that Steve McQueen was a daredevil?

The Great Escape

All of these men had a certain something, and we are going to put a name to it. They had… je ne sais quoi.

Okay, so je ne sais quoi means I do not know what. It is something unaccountable. Something that could hardly be said in one word, much less one hundred.

But a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

Does he have je ne sais quoi?

But that leaves us right back where we started. How can a good leading man be distinguished from an average leading man—or a bad one?

It is a combination of good acting and good character (and I don’t mean morals). The actor has to bring a certain something to a character that is already well-written and believable, and the combination of the two must be seamless. I have come up with a few criteria.

Official Term — Common usage

believability — “I forgot that I was watching TV for a second!”
charm, humor — “He’s sexay.”
coherence — “This dude is true to himself.”
depth of character — “This is true life, yo!”
je ne sais quoi — “I can’t put my finger on it?”
sensitivity — “Oh my gosh, he like, actually has feelings.”
sex appeal — “I pretty much want to marry everyone in this cast.”
spark of life — “That dude has total chemistry with the camera.”

Ultimately, we think the answer is more simplistic than even eight characteristics—but more on that later. For now, stay tuned for next installment, Hunks of Burning Flesh Part 2: The Husband.

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