Ever since Hollywood has been in existence, it has tried to make new stars. A new big star can sell a movie, and once they're proven successful, they can sell many other movies. This is especially handy when the fickle viewing audience turns on a big-name actor with star power, or Real Life Writes the Plot and they do something scandalous. Having a long line of replacements always pays off, and you can never have too many major stars.
The Hollywood Hype Machine refers to the massive set-up that is in place to create said new stars, or new TV shows, books, or movies. An aspiring, good-looking young actor, after getting a few noteworthy roles in indie films, TV shows, or their home country under his or her belt, will be chosen by a studio to be the "next big thing" (and are often ordained by entertainment journalists as the "it girl" or "it boy") and will thus get a major headlining role. They'll immediately appear in celebrity magazines and on entertainment programs and be touted as the Next Big Thing, and they'll give interviews in every medium possible. Several new roles will be announced at once. Tabloids will start following them around. Men's/women's interest magazines will be lining up to offer them a sexy photo shoot. They'll show up to host Saturday Night Live. They'll make People's list of the 50 Most Beautiful People and, if they're female, the "Top 100 Hottest Women" list of any men's magazine. Meanwhile, failed stars will suddenly drop off these lists. Did they suddenly become less good-looking? No, they're just not worth pushing anymore.
If the resulting push succeeds, great. If it bombs...? Well, the star will linger for a year or two before disappearing, as people wonder "what the hell ever happened to...?". At best, they will continue working in indie flicks, low-key studio pictures, and television, and may even be able to mount a comeback later. At worst, they will be in rehab, on unemployment lines, and "Where Are They Now?" specials (or worse). Sometimes, even if they're successful, the actors may get overwhelmed and suffer public burnouts, become typecast or too associated with a particular role, or simply reject Hollywood for a normal life.
The Hollywood Hype Machine is very fickle but has a never-ending supply of willing young stars and starlets ready to take the place of the old ones. The reason that magazines, tabloids, and TV shows (even ones unaffiliated with Hollywood studios) get into it is that, by pushing these new big stars, they can have big headlines and have paparazzi follow them around, thus selling more magazines and getting higher ratings.
Not even the might of the Hype Machine can determine what the public's tastes are going to be and while it can be powerful, it requires a certain delicacy of touch; trying too hard to make someone the Next Big Thing is a very good way of making the public sick of them very quickly. Still, the very existence of Hollywood and the television industry depends on fresh young talent. It's likely that every major star of today, good and bad, has at one point benefited from this.
Women seem more affected by this than men, perhaps as a result of roles and stardom coming to the most recent pretty new girl on the scene. As the female stars grow old, Hollywood decides they aren't pretty enough anymore, and casts the new young thing. Male stars, meanwhile, are offered a lot more leeway with their looks, and can even be downright unattractive (and can therefore get known for things besides their bodies), so they are less affected and are generally less replaceable. The main exceptions are, of course, young Pretty Boy actors whose main purpose is to make young women Squee their way to the theater. For every Leonardo DiCaprio who makes it to the top, there are countless young studs off of The WB or The CW who don't.
Compare Condemned by History, Hype Aversion, Hype Backlash, Music Is Politics, One-Hit Wonder, Tough Act to Follow. Also compare it to the "star system" employed by the studios during The Golden Age of Hollywood, which is effectively a modernized version. Contrast Star-Making Role, Breakthrough Hit, Career Resurrection. A related term in Professional Wrestling is referred to by fans as "pushed to the moon." Basically, when the people backstage take a particular shine to a new wrestler, they're hyped ("pushed" in wrestling slang) and promoted well beyond their current skill set (both wrestling ability and characterization and ability to cut promos, known as "mic work.") Some can catch up and become superstars, others sadly can't.
If it happens in-universe, that's Popularity Cycle.
Many examples of actors and directors from all folders can be found on Lebeau's LeBlog: "What the Hell Happened?"
Real Life Examples:
- Examples that didn't hold up
- Examples that did hold up
- Examples on the Fence
- Would-be and one-time A-Listers
- Too Early to Call
- Much of The Fade Out is about the studio's attempts to make an up-and-comer a star after a film's starlet is strangled to death late in production. The studio sets her up in a public relationship with a secretly gay actor to kill two birds with one stone.
- Babylon (2022): Nellie nigh-immediately becomes one of Hollywood's hottest new starlets, but has difficulty sustaining her fame after the transition to sound films.
- Discussed in How to Lose Friends & Alienate People with the characters of Vincent Lepak, a pretentious "hip" filmmaker, and Sophie Maes, an up-and-coming starlet. (There's also the older actress who comes back into the spotlight after suffering from obscurity for many years.)
- The Idolmaker: Before would-be Teen Idol Caesare has even had a real concert, Vinny hangs up hundreds of posters of his face with the caption "Caesare is here!" This attracts enough attention to draw a large crowd for his first show.
- The Angel episode "Eternity" dealt with a young actress who, knowing that she'd be spit out by the Hype Machine in a few years, tries to become a vampire so that she could retain her youth and beauty (and, by extension, her career) forever.
- A two part episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was devoted to this trope in regard to Ashley. Will helps Ashley breakout as a singer, turning her into an overnight success. Ashley quickly develops an ego due to her new found success but no less than a few weeks later her album completely bombs because people got sick of her. This also becomes rather unfortunately Harsher in Hindsight because Tatyana Ali's real life efforts to break out into the music business failed miserably.
- The transformed (not) winners of the Lottery in Lucky Day Forever are frequently displayed on the news and are frequently cast aside as soon as another Prole wins.
- Rocko's Modern Life had Rocko briefly enjoy success as an underwear model, only to be usurped at the end of the episode by Heffer.
- Allegra Coleman. In 1996, Esquire ran an article on the "Next Big Thing." They created their own Hype Machine behind her, talking about her role in a new Woody Allen film, her rocky relationship with David Schwimmer, and her friendship with Deepak Chopra. The problem? Allegra wasn't real. The whole thing was an elaborate fabrication created by writer Martha Sherrill as a hoax/publicity stunt/Take That!. The interesting part of the whole thing was that, despite not being real, the Allegra Coleman hype machine still worked, jump-starting the acting career of the model used in the photo shoot, future Heroes star Ali Larter.