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Little People, Big Business

Pop culture is a funny business. It is very difficult to predict what will be big.

Little people are big.

Peter Dinklage of "Game of Thrones"
Source: HBO
Peter Dinklage of "Game of Thrones"

I was struck by that while watching "Game of Thrones" on HBO .

Peter Dinklage, who plays Tyrion Lannister — "The Imp" — could very well end up stealing the show. Though standing only four feet, six inches tall, he looms large in all his scenes. This is good news, because if the show follows the books, The Imp becomes increasingly important, and ratings for HBO have been promising.

Dinklage has a long and award winning acting career, including starring in "The Station Agent," a small film which grossed an estimated $5.7 million in the U.S. Much of the rest of his career is more typical for actors of his physical stature — like "Elf."

It has always been thus for small-sized actors, going back to "The Wizard of Oz." But we're starting to see actors under five feet show up with greater regularity and in roles of greater diversity. It started with the Austin Powers movies and Verne Troyer as Mini Me. Troyer managed to hold his own in scenes with Mike Myers, no small feat. He became a star, and then he suffered from the usual Hollywood excesses. Troyer made the tabloids, another barrier broken!

Since then Americans have warmed to performers like Wee-Man, who suffers and succeeds with his taller comrades in the Jackass films. Meredith Eaton-Gilden broke ground by landing roles not specifically designed for someone who's only four feet tall, first on Family Law, and then as the love interest of William Shatner's character on Boston Legal. When the producers of "Boardwalk Empire" decided on a plotline involving small boxers forced to perform as leprechauns, touching on issues of unfair pay and treatment, an all-points-bulletin went out for casting. We even have the romance and reality of little people on TLC.

Next up — TruTV is pitching "Hulk Hogan's MCW" (Micro Championship Wrestling), where the pro wrestling giant mentors smaller competitors. This is coming on the heels of Spike TV's "Half Pint Brawlers." Dwarves wrestling? That's not so new. While it's more like a throwback to the circus, these programs at least provide a third dimension to the characters.

But Peter Dinklage isn't playing for laughs. In fact, his portrayal on "Game of Thrones" looms so large some viewers may forget his size, until the script makes it a plot point. Whitney Matheson writes in USA Todaythat Dinklage "has already established himself as a standout" on the series. The actor once said his dwarfism was difficult to handle when he was younger. "But the older you get, you realize you just have to have a sense of humor. You just know that it's not your problem. It's theirs."

Perhaps his performance will be noteworthy enough to be nominated for an Emmy. Has a dwarf ever won an Emmy?

If that happens, there'll only one barrier left to crack in television: The Real Little Housewives. Don't bet against it. I'm sure it's already in the works.

Questions? Comments? Funny Stories? Email funnybusiness@cnbc.com