If I Were A Network Head…

One of the great things about the television (and entertainment) business is that with the right role a talented actor waiting for their big break can become a star in a relatively short time. For example Eric Stonestreet was mostly unknown to the American public exactly a year ago (after toiling in the biz for 16 years). Now he’s an Emmy Winner and starring on a hit TV show. Jane Lynch was doing stellar (and appreciated) work on TV and in film (especially the Christopher Guest films), but once Ryan Murphy gave her the role of a lifetime on GLEE, it’s clear her career has entered another stratosphere. Success in the biz usually requires talent, but there are other elements involved – timing, the right role and oh yeah – luck. Right now the networks are hearing pitches for next year’s shows. Those pilots won’t start being greenlit until then end of this calendar year. Casting on those pilots won’t get into full swing until January. Here are just a few people who I think are extremely talented and just need to be matched to that iconic role to send their careers into that next gear. So networks –  keep these people in mind as I think they are “star worthy”. Most of these people are known in some capacity and there is no science to it. I just feel these are leading actors who have yet to be cast in that ‘perfect” role:

1) Henry Simmons

He was one of my favorite parts about the last few seasons of NYPD BLUE.  As Detective Baldwin Jones he was commanding, interesting, understated and believable. Whether romancing Garcelle Beauvais or as the series wrapped up, adopting a troubled kid, he was impressive. And I don’t think any female viewer had a problem with those shirtless scenes. So… where the hell is he? He’s done some small movies and guest stints on procedurals like CSI:MIAMI but this is a leading man. I’d cast him as the lead in a drama pilot.

2) Ana Ortiz

Ana was working steadily for many years guesting on shows like BOSTON LEGAL and in supporting roles that really didn’t showcase her talents. But she found the role of a lifetime with Hilda Suarez on UGLY BETTY. As the “pretty” but more superficial sister, Hilda could’ve been a one note character. Ana brought humor, tenderness, hilarity and warmth to this role. A loving Mom to Justin, supportive sister and daughter, she could make you laugh and cry in the same episode. She was cast in ABC’s not picked up ensemble police pilot , “True Blue”, this past season. I think she’s a leading lady, if given the opportunity. She could be the lead in a sitcom, muti or single cam, or even a drama, preferably one that could tap into her comic skills.

3) Viola Davis

OK, so Viola was nominated for an Oscar in ’09 for her stellar performance in “Doubt”. She just won her second Tony this past June for her leading performance in August Wilson’s “Fences”. So she’s getting work and really good work in the industry. We all know she’s an amazing actress and can handle and elevate any written role, so it’s time for a leading role that’s created specifically for her. I’m sure the pay was really great, but personally I think Viola is worthy of parts stronger than playing Julia Robert’s best friend in “Eat Pray Love” or that kooky supporting role on THE UNITED STATES OF TARA. She’s also a really warm presence and one I’d love to see in my living room every week. Stars like Edie Falco, Kyra Sedgwick, even Laura Linney now are having series created for them. I think Viola should be next and network or cable TV would all be the better for it.

4) Bobby Cannavale

I had never seen THIRD WATCH and when I first saw him on ALLY McBEAL, he didn’t knock me out.  But once I saw his sweet, funny and warm appearance in “The Station Agent”, I became a fan. He’s done great work on TV all these years (and on stage too) and though he’s won an Emmy for his role of Vince, Will’s boyfriend on WILL & GRACE and he finally did land a leading role in ABCs re-imagined  but very short-lived CUPID, last year, he’s starred in more failed pilots than not. He’s one of those guys that can easily slide from comedy to drama which should make casting him as a series lead an advantage. Plus he possesses that everyman quality, where you feel you know him and like him and that he’d be approachable if you met him in the street. No Hollywood vibe about him at all.

5) Sara Rue

She’s been working in TV since infancy. I remember her from the 1990 NBC sitcom GRAND. At the beginning of this decade she finally graduated to the lead when she starred in ABCs LESS THAN PERFECT. After that show ended she was cast in a number of failed pilots. Last season she was back to playing supporting as the best friend to Lindsay Price on EASTWICK. Since then she joined Jenny Craig, lost a ton of weight and is now their pitchwoman all over TV. Frankly whether she’s thin or not,  she’s funny and likeable. She needs to return to lead status now and preferably in a comedy. There is too much talent here not to be seen on a weekly basis. 

6) Jennifer Garner

I know – I’m really cheating here. She’s a big star who was the lead of her own show, ALIAS, for 5 seasons. She was nominated for Emmys. The reason I’m listing her here is quite simply, I miss her on my TV screen every week. I understand why she wouldn’t want to tie herself down to another series as she raises her young kids, and the hours, especially on her last show, are long and draining. But I’m sure she needs to nurture her creative outlet and in my humble opinion the parts being offered to her in film aren’t worthy of her. I think if Jennifer told network heads she was ready to come back to TV, she could write her own ticket. They’d all be fighting over her. Instead of grueling 14 hour days she could star in a sitcom with more manageable hours. I’m sure networks would pair her with the most talented writers in the biz. What if she did a show like Modern Family  which is more of an ensemble show, but one of the highest quality. The hours would be easier. She wouldn’t work every day of the week. She’d get a regular paycheck and she’d be in a project worthy of her. Jennifer on ALIAS was the definition of a leading lady. She’d go from heavy drama, to lightness, to action all in the course of one episode. Plus she’s one of the warmest,  sweetest celebrities in pop culture. Whenever she’s a guest on David Letterman I smile the entire time. Seeing her on TV every week in a role worthy of her would be a win for TV viewers.

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