With pilot pickups almost completed, the focus shifts to casting them. Every year, there are a dozen or so name actors that attract 90% of the early pilot offers until the thesps pick a project or pass on all. After fielding multiple offers, some of the most sought after actors this year already made their choices. That includes Kevin Bacon, who is making his first foray into series with a starring role in the Fox’s Kevin Williamson project; Andre Braugher, who signed on to lead the cast of ABC’s drama pilot Last Resort; and JoAnna Garcia Swisher, who is set as the female lead in the Greg Berlanti/Greg Malins CBS comedy pilot. Other heavily pursued actors are still in play. In comedy that includes James Marsden and Justin Long, who are hotly pursued coming off high-profile arcs on 30 Rock and New Girl, respectively, Damages‘ Rose Byrne and Ugly Betty alumna Becki Newton. Kyle Chandler is getting a ton of drama scripts but appears more inclined to do a cable project like his Friday Night Lights co-star Connie Britton who starred on the FX drama American Horror Story. James Purefoy also is popular in drama, and Without A Trace Anthony LaPaglia is fielding interest for both drama and comedy pilots.
As usual, there is a large contingent of feature actors that are being approached for pilots this season. The list includes Bacon, Long, Marsden, Jane Fonda, Uma Thurman, Ed Harris, Hugh Grant, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Monaghan, Anna Kendrick, Tea Leoni, Greg Kinnear, Malin Akerman, Ellen Barkin and Seann William Scott. TV stars that are being lured to return to series duty include Carol Burnett, Keri Russell, America Ferrera, Josh Holloway, Ian McShane, Tony Shalhoub, Allison Janney, Jean Smart and Weeds‘ Justin Kirk.
This season also marked a big resurgence of talent development-holding deals. It caps a trend of those pacts slowly coming back over the past several years after drying up almost completely in the mid-2000s, with both the networks and the studios stepping up to lock in talent early. The actors signed in network deals this season include Martin Lawrence (CBS), Desperate Housewives co-star Vanessa Williams (ABC), former Law & Order star Jesse Martin (ABC/ABC Studios), The Talk and King Of Queens alumna Leah Remini (ABC/ABC Studios), former Greek star Scott Michael Foster (ABC), comedian Dane Cook (NBC), The Event star Jason Ritter (NBC), The Closer veteran Corey Reynolds (NBC) and Army Wives star Sally Pressman (NBC). Latino actors are particularly hot this season. Fox hired a Mexico-based casting director to search for untapped Latin American performers and ended up signing talent holding deals with Mexican actors Martha Higareda and Adan Canto. Meanwhile, ABC signed Gina Rodriguez, hot off her Sundance movie Filly Brown, and veteran John Leguizamo. On the studio side, 20th Century Fox TV inked development deals with Lie To Me star Tim Roth and Scrubs alumna Sarah Chalke, while Warner Bros. TV enrolled former Heroes co-star Greg Grunburg. Under her deal, Chalke has already been cast in 20th TV’s ABC comedy pilot How to Live With Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life.
New element this season was signing talent deals with actors targeting specific projects that had not been officially greenlighted as a way of securing talent for hot projects before formal casting could be done. The Book Of Mormon star Andrew Rannells was signed in a joint 20th Century Fox TV-NBC talent holding deal with the intention for him to play one of the 3 leads in the NBC/20th TV comedy from the Glee duo of Ryan Murphy and Allison Adler, while actor-comedian David Koechner signed a talent holding deal with NBC with an eye toward him joining Greg Daniels’ adaptation of British comedy Friday Night Dinner. Both scripts were eventually picked up to pilot.
Also notable this season was the large number of projects sold with talent attached, especially on the comedy side. NBC bough half-hour projects starring Roseanne Barr, Sean Hayes, Sarah Silverman, Portia de Rossi, Mindy Kaling, Kal Penn, Snoop Dogg, Nick Thune and Omid Djalili. ABC went for comedies toplined by Kirstie Alley, JoAnna Garcia, Reba McEntire, Mandy Moore, Jim Belushi, Judy Greer, Ashley Tisdale, Jeff Garlin, Jim Breuer, Romeo Santos, Kyle Bornheimer, Marlon Wayans, Craig Kilborn and Sharon Horgan. The last 3 also created their starring vehicles, as did Kaling and Aasif Mandvi who headlined a comedy for CBS. (Silverman and Barr serve as co-creators of their shows.) Fox bought pitches with Tyler Labine and Hannibal Buress. The only drama projects with stars attached were NBC’s Jason Katims medical drama starring Jason Ritter and the network’s Blue Tilt toplined by Ethan Hawke and Vince D’Onofrio. (The latter has been rolled.) Of the talent-driven projects, the Kirstie Alley-starring The Manzanis went straight to pilot, with those toplined by Silverman, Barr, de Rossi, Kaling, McEntire and Greer also greenlighted to pilot, though the de Rossi and Kaling projects got the thumbs-up at ABC and Fox, respectively, after getting passed over by NBC. And White House comedy 1600 Penn clinched a pilot order from NBC after co-creator Josh Gad agreed to also star in the project. The Moore-starring comedy is still in contention at ABC, while talent released after their projects didn’t go are already pursued for other pilots. After multiple offers, Garcia was already snatched by the Berlanti/Malins CBS comedy, while Bornheimer and Penn also have been approached for other pilots.
The casts of veteran series that are ending their run are always targets for pilot casting directors. This year that includes ABC’s Desperate Housewives and NBC’s Chuck. I hear that Desperate Housewives‘ production schedule may not allow its stars to do hourlong pilots, but doing ABC half-hour pilots is a possibility because of the shorter production span and the ability to coordinate dates internally. Felicity Huffman already has been approached for an ABC comedy pilot. Meanwhile, Williams who has a talent deal with ABC and on avergae has less work load than the other Desperate Housewives leading ladies, may be able to do an hourlong pilot. As for Chuck, star Zachary Levi has already been talked about for a couple of half-hour pilots, including an NBC comedy.
TV Editor Nellie Andreeva - tip her here.