I am thinking of Ally McBeal in particular. For the entire run of the show the opening credits generally had clips of a character and the name of the actor that plays them. The final two actors (Peter MacNicol for the entire run, Gil Bellows until season 4 and Robert Downey Jr from there on) are billed differently. It says 'With Peter MacNicol and Robert Downey Jr', accompanied with the respective video clips for example.

While the characters are important, they are by no means the most central. In fact, not one of the actors billed as 'with' appear in every episode! Why are they billed differently?

  • 1
    TVTropes covers this: When the Title Sequence includes credits, there is a whole mess of jockeying for position that goes on. The dominant position within the credits sequence is either at the very beginning of the list, or at the very end. (tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AndStarring)
    – shufler
    Mar 15, 2012 at 18:57

4 Answers 4


Contractual agreements generally requested by the actor's agent to garner him/her more recognition. And, like you said, to give them credit for episodes they weren't in. It's just a way to make that actor stick out amongst the rest to earn him/her more brownie points.


Generally the way credits work in TV shows is that the most important characters within the show will appear in the credits first - these actors are said to have "top billing" and their roles within the production will be significant. These will be followed by less important/not so well known supporting characters. At the end of the credits there may be a few additional actors who while their role in that particular work might not be significant, are generally better known actors than all of the other actors on the list (unless you've got somebody A list for your leading roles, that is).

For example, using NCIS, you have the main team members from the Major Case Response Team (Mark Harmon as Gibbs, Michael Weatherly as DiNozzo, Pauley Perrette as Abby, Sean Murray as McGee), then your supporting characters like Brian Dietzen (Jimmy Palmer) and then the credits end up with David McCallum as Donald Mallard. David McCallum has a much longer career but a much smaller part yet his name is separate from the rest of the cast and appears at the end of the credits.

It is also possible for some actors playing small parts to appear first in the credits, this is usually down to these actors being very well known in comparison to the rest of the cast, or for contractual purposes. The Wikipedia article for Billing in Film-making uses the example of Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman both being credited before the title in Superman (1978), while a then unknown Christopher Reeve (who played Superman) was not.

  • The "with" thing in opening credits is currently mentioned in wikipedia's Opening Credits article. This same question came up on forums.xkcd.com/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=24496, which says that in 2008 that info was in the Billing article. Wikipedia doesn't make any strong statements about the significance, other opinions I've read just now agree with this: more-famous actors, esp. in non-lead roles. e.g. How I Met Your Mother, with Alyson Hannigan and Neil Patrick Harris. Nov 3, 2015 at 2:30

Normally "with" is for actors who are notable but not necessarily top billing in the particular movie. For example, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman in "See Me Now 2" .. they were not the major characters but they are more famous than the other cast members. So they are lower on the cast list but get special recognition because of who they are, which is a box office draw for their star power.

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    – John
    Oct 27, 2016 at 3:34

Also, there's a set of very specific use of terms used in the cases of Writers, Directors and Producers.

When a team have worked on something together, each name is linked by "and".

When a team have worked independently and it was put together at the end, each name is linked by "with".

Which is why you'll see stuff like:

Written by John and Janet and Dave with Anthony

In the case where John, Janet and Dave wrote together as a team and Anthony wrote some parts on his own that were added on.

  • 1
    This is interesting, but the question is about actor's credits This doesn't seem like an answer. Jun 19, 2016 at 2:36
  • I suppose it's tangentially related, but there's not been too many complaints, so I guess it's fine?
    – GeorgeWL
    Jun 21, 2016 at 12:58

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