Growing up as I did in the 1990s (a decade I hope we'll all touch on more in this forum), I inherited the knowledge that Alec Baldwin was a hack. He made ridiculous movies like "Malice" and "The Shadow". He wasn't a leading hunk somehow, but he sure acted like a star. He always seemed to be trying too hard. He hosted "Saturday Night Live" about a a bajillion times. He handed out Oscars and read from the telepromter. He sometimes inflected his words like a lamer Orson Welles. He went on Larry King Live to talk about the Democratic party. He got tangled up in nasty legal battles with Kim Basinger over cars and Beverly Hills homes and their daughter, Ireland. He had brothers.
Then something changed, although at first it didn't seem like anything at all was changing. Somewhere around the turn of the century - maybe 2001, when he narrated "The Royal Tennenbaums" - Alec Baldwin became quietly ubiquitous. He still did "SNL", but he also did primetime. He began showing up as a sideman in big movies like "The Aviator," but you couldn't call him a character actor, unless the character he was playing was "Alec Baldwin". He played silly people. He gained weight, but his performances became lighter, and better, too. It's comforting to see him in movies now - in many ways, Alec Baldwin IS the movies, now. His presence reassures us that we are being entertained, that we have come to the right place.
The lightening of the irreplaceable, unmistakable face and voice of Alec Baldwin is the opposite process to that undergone by Bill Murray, who must work less to boot. I haven't yet seen Alec Baldwin's new show with Tina Fey, "30 Rock", but I can't wait.