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Networks bet on returning stars

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Expect the new shows to have familiar faces this fall. Networks are filling hot pilot roles with household-name actors, defying the old Hollywood casting mantra that TV makes stars, not vice versa. Leading roles have been snagged by Terry O’Quinn (Lost), as the owner of a haunted building on ABC’s 666 Park Avenue; Kal Penn (House), as a corporate drone who takes advantage of his own identity theft on ABC’s comedy Prairie Dogs; and Ali Larter (Heroes), as a CIA agent on Fox’s The Asset. They join a bevy of 1990s-era celebrities getting another shot at prime time, like a reunited Roseanne Barr and John Goodman (Roseanne) on NBC’s trailer-park-set Downwardly Mobile, Kirstie Alley and Rhea Perlman (Cheers) on ABC’s half-hour The Manzanis, and John Stamos (Full House) on the Fox mismatched-sibling show Little Brother. Even youth-targeted The CW is avoiding total unknowns, casting Bridge to Terabithia star AnnaSophia Robb as a young Carrie Bradshaw on its Sex and the City prequel. With broadcast ratings sagging, a popular actor can get away with delivering a fraction of the audience of a previous hit. Tim Allen‘s new comedy, Last Man Standing, doesn’t attract nearly the number of viewers that Home Improvement once did, but it doesn’t need to. ”Having a marketable star is very important now because the landscape has gotten so competitive with cable,” explains one top talent agent. Not that having a big name guarantees a series order, as Ethan Hawke discovered last year when Fox dumped his pilot Exit Strategy. You know it’s a tough economy when even stars get pink-slipped.

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