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A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Another year, another batch of potential breakouts looking to lure the mix of viewers and buzz that NBC’s The Blacklist generated a season earlier. Garnering early attention among the 2014-15 season’s two dozen new offerings is the Shonda Rhimes-produced How to Get Away With Murder (ABC), telenovela Jane the Virgin (The CW) and genre plays Gotham (Fox) and The Flash (The CW).
There are recognizable works — comic adaptations, romantic comedies and, in the case of ABC, diversity — and a new cadre of film stars, led by Viola Davis (Murder) and Octavia Spencer (Red Band Society) making the leap to TV. “I’ve never been the show before and with this, I was the show … what was there to refuse?” Davis says of TV’s appeal.
But if history is any indication, stars don’t guarantee viewers — and second-season renewals are hard to come by. Not that cancellation scars have stopped talent from attempting new hits — the fastest rebounder of late being Dylan McDermott, who is returning to CBS with psychological thriller Stalker only a few months after the same network axed his 2013 starrer Hostages.
The Hollywood Reporter quizzed the producers behind several of the new fall offerings to find out how they pitched their series — as well as the stories behind the show titles and how they netted their stars.
See more Faces of Fall 2014
David Caspe, Marry Me (NBC)
We [his wife and series star Casey Wilson] were making love, and I said, “Hey, I’ve got this idea for a show.” She said, ‘Hey, can’t you finish making love first?’ And then a minute and a half later, I pitched her the show. Well, really, it’s based on my life with her and she’s hilarious and would be my No. 1 choice no matter what. I’d never take advantage of that, but she liked the idea.
Kenya Barris, Black-ish (ABC)
We knew that Tracee Ellis Ross‘ character was going to be a big character and we’d seen a million people before her. But the moment that Tracee walked in, Anthony Anderson made a comment about her behind — because they’re friends — in a very funny way. She responded back immediately. She didn’t pause. She didn’t take any moment to get right back at him. It was almost like she didn’t have to read the role. We knew immediately that we had found Anthony Anderson’s wife.
Emily Kapnek, Selfie (ABC)
I relied on the Vulcan Mind Meld, a Sonic Screwdriver and the dark arts of the United Talent Agency.
Jeff Rake, Mysteries of Laura (NBC)
We sent Debra Messing the script and prayed. Thankfully, she immediately saw herself in the role. We then got on the phone and had a detailed talk about tone, schedule, etc. The one nonstarter for her was shooting in L.A., where I had set the series in my initial pilot drafts. I figured if I made L.A. a big part of the script then the studio would have to let me shoot it here and I wouldn’t have to deal with the difficulties of long-distance production. But Debra had recently moved to New York and wanted to stay. We caved in about five seconds.
Matt Miller, Forever (ABC)
Ioan Gruffudd, who plays the [lead], actually has a kid in preschool with my kid, and I saw him one day while I was dropping off my kid. I didn’t know him at all, but I knew who he was from the Fantastic Four movies, and he just has this kind of handsome way about him. I think he was wearing white loafers. I was like, any guy who can pull of white loafers can probably pull off some of the levels I’ve written here. He came in, read, killed it and then the next morning we took that tape of his read to ABC. It was just a home run.
Nick Santora, Scorpion (CBS)
It was very hard to find Walter. It’s difficult to play a genius with a very low emotional quotient but still be emotionally accessible enough to make the audience care about you. If someone told the 1991 version of me that one day I’d get to work with the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), I would have never believed it.
David Goyer, Constantine (NBC)
We met with over 500 actors. Matt Ryan sent in a self-tape from England. Matt was primarily a stage actor and was doing a Shakespeare run with Jude Law. A month later, we still hadn’t found our man. By this time, Matt’s play had finished his run and we flew him in for a live test. But he’d lost so much weight on stage that he was swimming in his pants! So our casting director had a friend loan him some better fitting pants for the final audition and he became what we felt all along: our first choice for John Constantine.
Jeff Lowell, Manhattan Love Story (ABC)
We went after Analeigh Tipton first. She responded to the script, we set up a lunch, and I woke up the morning of the meeting with a cold. I took every cold medicine known to man, get there, and my nose begins running like a faucet. When she gets there, I try to casually blow my nose every few minutes when she’s looking away and after 10 minutes, I’m just talking through my napkin. I was a horrifying mess. One of the producers nudged me halfway through and gave me a clean napkin, because I’d soaked through mine. At the end of the meeting, I’m sure I’ve blown it and I went home, ate a handful of medication and slept for a day. I woke up to find she’s into it. Go figure.
Ben Queen, A to Z (NBC)
Cristin Milioti was one of the first people we saw on the first day. She was also the first cast on the show. We chemistry tested her with a lot of actors who were all very good but there was just something missing in their interactions with Cristin. I’d seen Ben Feldman on The Mindy Project and loved him on Mad Men. I had a feeling that they’d be good together. He and Cristin met a half-hour before their network chemistry test. They were clearly feeling each other out and that sense of “Who are you?” really helped the freshness of the relationship, which for the pilot is all about them getting to know each other. The two of them together are just charming — there’s no better word for it.
Peter Nowalk, How to Get Away With Murder (ABC)
Luck, prayers and our genius casting director Linda Lowy. We’d heard from various sources that Viola Davis wasn’t going to do TV right now. Linda was smart enough to call Viola’s manager, Estelle Lasher, to see if this were true. Many sleepless nights later (and one phone call with Viola where she pitched me an idea that we’re doing in episode 104), we were all set to go.
Jennie Snyder Urman, Jane the Virgin (CW)
Gina Rodriguez was the third actor who walked in to audition. Ben Silverman had seen her in Filly Brown and had called our casting directors (Alyson Silverberg and Jonathan Harris) and asked them to call her in. They had already lined her up. There were a few people who knew, going in, that Gina was such a special actress. When I saw her, I was blown away. The audition Gina gave that day was the performance she gave in the pilot. There was nothing to change, no notes to give. She just came in, made me laugh, made me cry and that was it.
Margaret Nagle, Red Band Society (Fox)
Octavia Spencer read the script and agreed to take a meeting. Octavia doesn’t mince words. The Amblin offices have a soda machine that spits out chipped ice. We bonded over our mutual love of chipped ice and mixing sodas together. Our conversation was along the lines of, “Have you ever taken some Dr Pepper, put a splash of Diet Coke in it? It’s not quite as good as Orange Fanta Soda and Root Beer.” And we started talking like mixologists. Chipped ice was our ice breaker.
Kevin Hench, Cristela (ABC)
Our producer Becky Clements sent me a clip of Cristela doing stand-up on Conan and asked me if I’d like to develop for her. I thought, “Wow, she’s fun to watch on TV. She needs to be on TV.” Cris and I met and hit it off. Everything we’ve done together since has not only confirmed but surpassed my first impression. She’s not just a brilliant comedian, but an incredibly skilled actor and writer, too.
Andrew Kreisberg, The Flash (CW)
People think it’s apocryphal but Grant Gustin, just like Stephen Amell on Arrow, was the very first person we saw audition. And just like with Stephen, once we saw Grant say the words, we knew he was our man.
Barbara Hall, Madam Secretary (CBS)
The first time a star’s name was mentioned was when I turned the pilot into the network on a Friday. They asked how we felt about Tea Leoni. We all thought that was an obviously great idea but Tea had resisted doing TV for a while. It was dream casting for us but I was reluctant to get my hopes up. On Monday morning, the phone rang first thing and it was CBS saying that Tea was interested. The character spoke to her in a very specific way at just the right time. After a phone call to confirm we had the same vision of Elizabeth, we were off to the races. Madam Secretary was born.
Gary Glasberg, NCIS: New Orleans (CBS)
The character of Dwayne Pride had to be a TV incarnation of the real thing. Retired NCIS Agent D’Wayne Swear is a born and bred New Orleanian. He’s a delightful, fun, wonderful, bear of a man and we needed to find someone who could bring him to life for our NCIS audience. Scott Bakula came up and I immediately knew it was the right fit. Scott brings tremendous emotion and accessibility to the role. Similar to [Mark] Harmon, he’s every man. You want to hang out with Bakula and have a beer with him. You trust him. That’s what makes a great lead agent in our NCIS world. Scott’s versatility brings humor and heart and pathos to the role.
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