In an industry often criticized for its obsession with youth in front of the camera, it has been nice to see accomplished veterans Catherine O’Hara, Judith Light and Katey Sagal attracting multiple offers at the onset of the 2020 broadcast pilot season. Sagal already made her choice, committing to play the lead in ABC’s high-profile drama pilot Rebel, from Krista Vernoff.
As broadcast networks and studios begin to go down their wish lists, reaching out to A-list actors for pilot leads, they also are facing anxiety over whether they will be able to land the big names they are after and how much it will cost.
Because of the proliferation of deep-pocketed streaming platforms that have driven salaries up to $1 million an episode for A-listers on new shows, it has been harder for broadcasters to attract top talent, especially on the drama side. Last season, they raised the salary bar, with Stephen Dorff, Rob Lowe and John Slattery reportedly getting $250,000 an episode to star in Fox’s Deputy, 9-1-1: Lone Star and NeXt, respectively. Additionally, Michael Sheen, Cobie Smulders and Edie Falco reportedly scored paychecks in the $200,000-$250,000 per-episode range for Fox’s Prodigal Son, ABC’s Stumptown and CBS’ Tommy, respectively.
With streamers also largely bypassing pilots, making the proposition even more lucrative for actors with series deals, most observers expect $250,000 to be the opening salvo for top talent to do broadcast pilots this season.
There are other concessions made to big stars to lure them to broadcast, including doing fewer than 22 episodes a season, a trend that started a few years back with Kevin Bacon on The Following and Viola Davis on How to Get Away With Murder. The option, which allows top actors to maintain a movie career while on a broadcast series, has become common practice, with Smulders among those who implemented it for their pilot deals last season.
Along with O’Hara, Friends alumna Lisa Kudrow and Sarah Gadon, the latter coming off her role in the most recent installment of True Detective, have been garnering strong early buzz this year.
Schitt’s Creek star O’Hara and Transparent alumna Light are among a slew of actors from recently ended or coming to an end broadcast, cable or streaming series who are in demand early this pilot season.
Kristen Bell, whose NBC series The Good Place wraps its run tomorrow, is being consistently talked about, as is The Americans‘ Keri Russell, whose co-lead Matthew Rhys already signed on to headline HBO’s Perry Mason.
Also in demand are The Affair‘s Dominic West, perennial Pilot Season Comedy Most Wanted Damon Wayans Jr., coming off CBS’ Happy Together, and Lucifer‘s Tom Ellis.
Other stars of recently departed series being courted for a comeback include Bell’s The Good Place co-star William Jackson Harper, Jessica Jones‘ Krysten Ritter,
as well as Scandal and Little Fires Everywhere‘s Kerry Washington, Schitt’s Creek’s Annie Murphy, Orange Is the New Black’s Taylor Schilling, Fam‘s Tone Bell, The Big Bang Theory‘s Johnny Galecki, Madam Secretary‘s Tea Leoni, Veep‘s Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale and Sam Richardson, GLOW‘s Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin, Catastrophe‘s Rob Delaney, Suits’ Gabriel Mach, Pearson‘s Gina Torres, Modern Family‘s Eric Stonestreet and Ed O’Neill, Designated Survivor’s Adan Canto, The Village’s Lorraine Toussaint and the cast of Game of Thrones.
Also getting approached early on are Vanessa Hudgens, Topher Grace, Blair Underwood, Lauren Graham, Sanaa Lathan, Jay Pharoah, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Luke Kirby and Thomas Haden Church.
Lizzy Caplan, who was heavily pursued last year, opting for one-season deals on two streaming shows instead, is expected to be in demand again, with Josh Brolin, Common, Jennifer Hudson and David Duchovny also being discussed.
Other names that are making the rounds early this pilot season include Lethal Weapon‘s Sean William Scott, Adam Brody, Kaitlin Olson, Keegan-Michael Key, Merritt Wever, Perpetual Grace LTD’s Jimmi Simpson, Tatiana Maslany, Narcos: Mexico‘s Michael Peña, Constance Zimmer, Benjamin Bratt and Scandal alum Joshua Malina.