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TV's most wanted: Stars head to the small screen

Matthew Broderick, Laura Linney, and Zooey Deschanel all sign on for pilots

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Matthew Broderick is finally following in his wife’s footsteps. After years of wooing by the broadcast networks, Sarah Jessica Parker’s other half just agreed to play a celebrity author in the NBC comedy pilot Beach Lane. And he’s one of many film stars looking to make the transition to the small screen this fall. All over Hollywood today, TV executives are feverishly trying to give their pilots the edge among this fall’s bumper crop by either recruiting the latest 40-plus actress who’s ready to take the plunge (hi, Julianne Moore and Maria Bello!) or giving former TV mainstays another chance to shine (Matthew Perry will be playing a stadium manager to Allison Janney’s owner in a new ABC comedy).

Fortunately for all the networks, the pool of top-tier talent just got a little bigger: With last month’s cancellation of Ugly Betty and the March 3 finale of FX’s Nip/Tuck, actors like America Ferrera, Eric Mabius, and Julian McMahon are up for grabs — for the moment, anyway. (How about the former Dr. Troy as the new star of CBS’ Hawaii Five-0?) And then there are those stars who, having flirted with series work through short stints, are committing to the small screen for the first time. Laura Linney, who memorably guest-starred on Frasier, is on board Showtime’s cancer drama The Big C (with Precious‘ Gabourey Sidibe). And Zooey Deschanel (who popped up on Bones earlier this season) and Luke Wilson (That ’70s Show) have each signed on for pilots at HBO.

Want some Oscar power for your prime-time show? Julianne Moore — who actually got her start on the daytime soap As the World Turns — is fielding TV offers after turning heads as Jack’s Boston gal pal on 30 Rock (including one to star in NBC’s reboot of Prime Suspect). Forest Whitaker has agreed to headline CBS’ Criminal Minds spin-off, while Sideways‘ Virginia Madsen will class up Scoundrels, ABC’s adaptation of New Zealand’s Outrageous Fortune. Meanwhile, Josh Lucas is mulling an offer from NBC to headline a remake of The Rockford Files — a role that was turned down by Matt Dillon.

But bad news for fans of Grey’s Anatomy alum Jeffrey Dean Morgan. With five movies in the can for 2010, the Watchmen star is apparently not ready to stage a comeback to TV. ”It’s hard to find a man like that,” laments one studio president. ”He’s a man’s man.” Well, would you take Thomas Haden Church instead? Turns out the Spider-Man 3 villain is fielding offers to star in a prime-time drama this fall. And that’s what makes this time of year so fun, explains one network casting exec. ”Finding the perfect fit — or reinventing a star — can be exciting.” We’re sure Glenn Close and her three Emmys would agree.