ABC's Talent Development Program -- Tom Hanks, Ann Jillian, and Michael Pare are some of the actors to emerge from the now closed program

On Oct. 13, 14, and 15, Roma Downey played the title role in NBC’s six-hour miniseries A Woman Named Jackie. This week, Emma Samms stars in ABC’s much-anticipated Dynasty: The Reunion. It’s been a good month for graduates of ABC’s ambitious Talent Development Program.

Unfortunately for aspiring young actors, the program no longer exists; it was quietly suspended two years ago. ”We’re constantly looking for talent, and rather than formalize a program, we decided to look throughout the year,” says Donna L. Rosenstein, ABC’s vice president of casting and artist relations. Still, the talent-development program had a stellar decade-long run, helping to launch the careers of such stars as Arsenio Hall, Ann Jillian, Tom Hanks, Sinbad, Donna Dixon, Michael Pare, and daytime heartthrob Ronn Moss (Ridge on CBS’ The Bold and the Beautiful).

The program worked simply: Every year ABC casting executives found a dozen or so young, little-known performers who they thought had that special something and put them under exclusive one-year TV contracts in the hope of placing them in the network’s series and pilots. Very often, actors in the program had first crack at auditions for ABC projects. No training or schooling was involved, and the participants could work anywhere except at rival TV networks. ”The ironic thing was after they signed me for the program I never worked for ABC again,” says Downey, who was asked to join after appearing on the network’s soap One Life to Live. ”But that vote of confidence was extremely helpful. The program paid for me to do stage work for an entire year.”

For Emma Samms, who first found fame on ABC’s General Hospital, Talent Development took her out of the Los Angeles deli where she worked serving sandwiches. ”ABC gave me a chunk of money, and I was, to say the least, thrilled. When they signed me, they immediately took me over to General Hospital,” she recalls, laughing, ”and I thought, ‘Great, I will no longer have to go through the nightmare auditioning process.’ My car didn’t have air-conditioning, and I always looked like something that had crawled in off the desert. Of course, I still had to go through the nightmare auditioning process, but (the talent program) was such a boost that I know it helped me get the job.” (It didn’t hurt that she was able to practice lines with her pal Arsenio, then also unknown.)

ABC hopes to make another return on its investment this season with Kyle Chandler, who stars as Jeff Metcalf in the network’s Tuesday-night series Homefront. ”I had nothing going for me three years ago,” Chandler says. ”I always knew I could act, but I didn’t know if I was really any good. I was acting in Georgia, (ABC) put me on tape, and the next thing I knew I was in the program. It never got me a job, but it did give me that confidence that said, ‘We think you’re good.”’

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