Every new season brings an army of new faces to prime time, but how many have what it takes to be a breakout star? For every Bart Simpson, there are dozens of…well, trust us: You’ve never heard of them. In anticipation of the 1991-92 season, EW asked all four network programming chiefs to pick this fall’s hottest newcomers.
When CBS was looking for an actor for Palace Guard, executive producer Stephen J. Cannell ran through the usual action-hour suspects: Jack Scalia, Lorenzo Lamas, and so on. But it was D.W. Moffett who won the starring role as the show’s sardonic ex-jewel thief. ”He’s incredible,” says CBS Entertainment president Jeff Sagansky. ”D.W. is one of those guys like Bruce Willis or Don Johnson. He has a great sense of timing and delivers a good line better than most.” Over the last few years, CBS flooded Moffett with pilot scripts, all of which he rejected. When Cannell suggested him for Guard, says Sagansky, ”I said, ‘Don’t bother — he’s not interested.’ But he was, and once he tested for the role, it was open-and-shut.”
Fox TV president Peter Chernin has similar confidence in Roc star Charles S. Dutton. ”There are some wonderful people on our shows,” he says, ”but I think he stands out. The show was built around him, and he’s such a commanding figure. You can’t take your eyes off of him. You very infrequently see performers who are that galvanizing.”
”It’s like picking your favorite child,” says NBC Entertainment president Warren Littlefield. ”But certainly, you can’t look at the product and not pick David Keith” — the con man with snake-oil charm on NBC’s Flesh ‘N Blood. ”It’s a blend of his wonderful abilities and the fact that there is a great character there for him to play — just the sort of person who jumps out at you. That’s how you get a hit.”
Only ABC Entertainment president Robert Iger declined, through a spokesman, to make a selection. His caution is curious, given that the other network chiefs noted how heavily ABC is banking on comedian Tim Allen, the star of Home Improvement. The powers that be also see a lot of potential in Fran Drescher of CBS’ Princesses and Regina Taylor of the NBC drama I’ll Fly Away. But CBS’ Sagansky cautions against taking their prognostications too seriously. ”We picked Lenny (Clarke) last year,” he recalls, ”and his show , (Lenny) couldn’t generate a ripple no matter where we put it. If people have felt like they have seen something before, they won’t watch it.” Perhaps those are words for programmers — and actors — to live by.