EXCLUSIVE: There is a major casting change on the CBS medical drama pilot Code Black. Marcia Gay Harden, originally cast in the co-starring role of Christa, will now play the lead, Leanne. Bonnie Somerville has been tapped to replace Harden as Christa.

Face Forward Gala Supporting Victims Of Domestic AbuseThe lead in Code Black became vacant after the table read earlier this week when 31-year-old Maggie Grace, originally cast in the role, was released. As part of the recasting process, the pilot’s producers and casting directors looked at other actresses in Leanne’s suggested age range (35). While that was going on, they also started thinking of Harden in the role. It is not a conventional choice as Harden is 24 years older than Grace. But I hear that the executives felt the Oscar winner had the gravitas they felt the role needed. Leanne is described as the residency director in the ER, who is a force of nature and a force to be reckoned with. A decision was made to age up the Leanne character and age down Christa, with Somerville tapped to play the tweaked character. Christa, a former soccer mom whose son died of cancer, is a newly minted, talented and dedicated doctor whose experience handling her son’s disease, coupled with her intuition and life experience, makes her see things that often escape her younger fellow residents.

While rare, the switcheroo is not unprecedented. Three years ago, production had started on NBC’s drama pilot Revolution with the lead role still open when the producers gave it to Billy Burke. Burke had already been cast in the pilot in a co-starring role and had even filmed a scene when he got the promotion. His original part eventually went to David Lyons. The pilot went on to score NBC’s highest testing numbers in years and landed on the network’s fall schedule behind The Voice. 

Written by Michael Seitzman and directed by David Semel, Code Black is based on Ryan McGarry’s feature documentary of the same name.  Set in the busiest and most notorious ER in the nation, the show revolves around four residents who are getting their first taste of ER medicine and the medical staff who mentor, teach and terrify them.

Seitzman and Semel executive produce alongside Marti Noxon and Linda Goldstein-Knowlton. ABC Studios is the studio. The cast also includes Melanie Kannokada, Luis Guzman, Raza Jaffrey and Ben Hollingsworth. Harden is with ICM Partners, Framework and Schreck Rose. Somerville is with APA and McKeon Myones Management.