Common wisdom maintains that outstanding TV series all start with a solid script. But even the brightest script can't overcome questionable casting.
This fall, CBS scores big with “Blue Bloods,” with Tom Selleck as the patriarch in a family of cops, and “The Defenders,” with Jerry O’Connell and Jim Belushi both sparking some of the best chemistry seen on TV in years.
NBC has Jason Ritter looking good in “The Event,” ABC has mixed up a nice “Friends”-type ensemble on “Happy Endings” and Fox made the unlikely, yet appealing, decision to match Will Arnett with Keri Russell for “Running Wilde.”
(Msnbc.com is a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC Universal.)
But don’t get too comfy with any pilot that might leak your way. Networks send previews out with a warning that these are not for review because each show is a work in progress.
So let’s take the networks up on that claim with a few casting ideas on how they might want to plug any holes before the shows premiere.
‘The Whole Truth’ on ABC
ABC wasn’t exactly telling the whole truth when it showcased this pilot about a defense attorney (Rob Morrow) and a prosecutor (Joely Richardson) who share a competitive relationship with a hint of a romantic back story.
Richardson opted out of the role after shooting the pilot because she wanted to spend more time with her family. Good news for her family, but not for viewers. Richardson brought a depth and maturity to the role, and just as she did on “Nip/Tuck,” exuded a smoldering sexuality. Snagging another actress who could bring all that plus an undeniable electricity with her co-star Morrow, won’t be easy.
Who should replace Richardson: There’s plenty of actresses out there with the chops to play this role. In fact, Maura Tierney (“ER”) might already have landed it. That turnaround would almost be cosmic justice, since Tierney had to drop out of “Parenthood” last season because of cancer treatment and was replaced by Lauren Graham. Tierney has a wonderful tough, scruffy edge to her that might work, but someone like Holly Hunter could be better at capturing the mature sophistication Richardson brought to the role.
‘Law & Order: Los Angeles’ on NBC
After a long run in New York, the franchise is set to spread the formula to the West Coast, and the cast should reflect a different sensibility. And it should be pretty. You’ve got to toss in the pretty if you are in Los Angeles. Though the show is set to debut this fall, it still doesn’t have a cast in place.
Who should be cast: Now that he’s done flashing about future events, it’s time to put Joseph Fiennes’ detective skills to work as the senior detective. And he’ll need a flashy junior detective, so how about going with the non-obvious choice of Kristen Bell? Don’t forget, she did some mighty fine sleuthing on “Veronica Mars.” For the police commanding officer, CCH Pounder fits the bill, although she might not want to return to the cop shop after “The Shield.”
For executive district attorney, Famke Janssen, who killed as Ava on “Nip/Tuck,” would do a great job as a gorgeous DA not afraid to go for the jugular. She could get some help from Kyle Chandler as the assistant district attorney, and feature his “Friday Night Lights” co-star Taylor Kitsch as a young district attorney. For the department psychologist, you can’t do better than Tony/Oscar/Emmy/Grammy winner Rita Moreno.
‘The Rockford Files’ on NBC
Yes, we know this pilot is dead and practically cremated, but NBC should take a second look at a first-rate opportunity to resurrect this gem. With the proper casting, this series has a real shot even with a so-so script.
Who should be cast: This is an absolute no-brainer after “Lost” set up the incredible buddy chemistry between Sawyer and Miles. Josh Holloway would make the perfect Rockford, with his comic delivery and movie-star looks. Have him play off Ken Leung as the modern-day Angel, and toss in “Burn Notice” star and fan favorite Bruce Campbell as Rockford’s irrepressible dad, and you’d have a series with a built-in audience aching for a good time.
‘$#*! My Dad Says’ on CBS
This sitcom bursts with every single one-liner Twitter followers have been reading since Justin Halpern started the feed in August 2009. The San Diego-based writer moved in with his crotchety dad after his girlfriend dumped him. He then started tweeting the crazy, colorful lines spouted by his opinionated, conservative dad.
When William Shatner was cast as the dad, it seemed like the show could work well. Everyone knows the actor is over the top, as he’s proven on “The Practice” and as the spokesman for Priceline. But his exaggerated delivery drowns out the rest of the characters, and there’s no comic timing between him and his co-star.
Who could replace Shatner: No one in recent memory has done a better job at delivering caustic lines to his TV son than Kurtwood Smith on “That 70s Show.” Not only did Smith nail his own lines, he allowed his co-stars to react and capitalize on the fun.
‘Terra Nova’ on Fox
Steven Spielberg is producing, but who is starring? That’s a question waiting to be answered about this midseason series that has yet to line up a cast. The network hasn’t decided when it will debut, but there’s always the possibility that it won’t at all.
This series about a colony of humans trying to give the human race a second chance by traveling 150 million years back in time offers some meaty roles. There’s a devoted father with a checkered past, his surgeon wife and their son and teen daughter. The premise also has a charismatic commander.
Who should be cast: First choice for the dad would be Kyle Chandler, but the rumor is that he passed. Perhaps Spielberg could put some pressure on him, because we’d love to see him with Sonya Walger (Penny on “Lost”) as his surgeon wife. And to add that forbidden spice, let’s cast her former “Lost” lover Desmond, Henry Ian Cusick, as the charismatic commander. Toss in Zach Gilford (“Friday Night Lights”) as the son whose allegiance is torn between Dad and the commander, and then pop in Selena Gomez as the rebel daughter. Yes, Gomez is doing movies now along with Disney show “Wizards of Waverly Place,” but what up-and-comer wouldn’t want to be nice to Spielberg?
‘No Ordinary Family’ on ABC
Michael Chiklis stars as a man just treading water in both his relationship with his brilliant, powerful wife and his job as a police sketch artist. He’s the daddy glue holding the Powell family together until they crash in a forest and gain superpowers. The tricky thing about casting someone like Chiklis in a role that seems to go against type is viewers thinking of him in only one way. (Can you imagine Kiefer Sutherland suddenly playing a goofy guy?)
Who should carry the lead: Chiklis is great in the role, but when you cast someone who has played a rogue cop with no moral compass for seven full seasons on “The Shield,” it’s difficult for viewers to wrap their brains around him as a subservient kind of guy. But Chiklis pulled this off before when everyone thought the nice guy from “The Commish” and “Daddio” could never be the hard-ass, womanizing uber macho detective Vic Mackey on “The Shield.” Let’s hope he can once again play against type and win over viewers.
Susan C. Young is a writer in Northern California.