February 03, 2014 6:18pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
TV Pilot Season: Hilary Swank, Adam Pally, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Jeffrey Dean Morgan Top Network Wish Lists
With more than 80 pilots -- some of them already picked up to series -- the race to cast the hundreds of roles in the dramas and comedies in contention for 2014-15 is well underway. Casting directors now find themselves in the annual scramble to lure stars who are both available and willing to commit to either multiple seasons, or in some cases, short-order limited series.
The increase in "limited" -- or "event" -- programming is helping to lure big names from the film world, with Hilary Swank, Diane Lane, Jennifer Garner, Luke Wilson, Ryan Phillippe and James Marsden all receiving multiple offers.
"Broadcasters have finally learned that they have to compete with cable and are getting more edgier and better material -- and directors, including Lee Daniels," one talent agent says, pointing to Halle Berry (CBS' Extant), Zoe Saldana (NBC's Rosemary's Baby) and Jessica Lange (FX's American Horror Story) turning to TV.
Jennifer Connelly also has been generating a lot of interest, as networks continue to court Oscar and awards season regulars like Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, David Strathairn and John C. Reilly to give dramas an extra bit of gravitas in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
While it's unclear just how many of the box office heavy hitters will actually take on a pilot, Final Destination 3 star Mary Elizabeth Winstead, 29, and Magic City's Jeffrey Dean Morgan, 47, have vaulted to the top of pilot season's wish list. Both actors, multiple sources say, aren't overexposed and are being courted because there are not a lot of actors available in those age ranges.
"Everyone wants to find that discovery that's not really a discovery -- that person people know and recognize but they're not sure where they know them from," the talent agent says, with another noting Watchmen star Morgan is "sexy for network TV but not sexy enough for film."
Meanwhile, a roster of familiar names from long-running series have resurfaced, with The Closer's Kyra Sedgwick, Weeds' Mary-Louise Parker, House's Hugh Laurie and Happy Endings alums Adam Pally, Damon Wayans Jr. and Casey Wilson all fielding multiple broadcast offers; Wilson has signed on to fiance David Caspe's NBC pilot. Parenthood's Ray Romano, who has recurred for the past two seasons, is fielding interest though he's said to be less interested in returning to series regular work.
Laurie -- as well as Rose Byrne and Jason Isaacs -- were among the actors atop the networks' wish lists last season. Neither Laurie nor Byrne signed on, while Isaacs was attached to a CBS drama that ultimately did not go to series.
"Everyone is fair game. TV has become so significant and it's so much better than film -- and there's more money in TV than in features," another talent manager says. "Actors who would not have done TV before are now open to doing that -- especially with the success of Netflix."