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Critics warm to name guests

Movie actors shine on small screen

Brad Pitt. Matt Damon. Christina Ricci. Michael Douglas. Sean Penn. And it isn’t even close to Oscar season. Actually, these are just a few of the big-shot film actors who were seen on episodic television this past season and are contenders for guest-performer Emmys.

Indeed, network sitcoms and dramas were rife with big-name temp work, with NBC being among the biggest employers. Thursday night sitcom “Will & Grace” was perhaps the best example, and for the most part, critics liked what they saw on the show guestwise.

“I thought Matt Damon was incredibly charming and funny, and Glenn Close did one of those big over-the-top ‘Sunset Boulevard’ star turns, playing a celebrity photographer, that was incredibly amusing,” says Robert Bianco, television writer for USA Today.

Other single out Michael Douglas’ loopy role as a closeted gay cop on the show as one with a shot come Emmy time. The 2001-02 “Will & Grace” season also unspooled guest performances from Woody Harrelson, Sidney Pollack, Cher, Parker Posey, Blythe Danner and Rosie O’Donnell.

Meanwhile, on NBC’s rookie laffer “Scrubs,” Brendan Fraser’s performance as a leukemia patient also drew critical praise. “It was one of those rare, fully formed characters, rather than just a slick guest-star turn,” Bianco says.

Seconds David Kronke, TV critic for the Los Angeles Daily News: “He was more alive and entertaining than he is in a lot of the movies I’ve seen him in.”

Yet another example of an NBC series achieving guest-star alchemy, “The West Wing” blended Mary-Louise Parker into its episodes so smoothly she’s joining the cast as love interest to Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman (played by Bradley Whitford).

“This was a lively, flirtatious, charming character, a really full-bodied performance,” says Kronke. “She was sort of smart and ditzy at the same time. In a few broad strokes, you really got a good sense of her character and how appealing she was.”

Of course, NBC didn’t have a monopoly on booking well-known film stars this year, with Sonia Braga giving HBO subscribers their money’s worth as the demanding lover to sexually intrepid Kim Cattrall in “Sex and the City,” and Dennis Hopper taking time out from laying around the pool in Gap clothing spots to do a multi-episode run as Eastern European terrorist Victor Drazen on the Fox rookie drama “24.” Other notable multi-episode stops from well-knowns included Jon Bon Jovi playing Calista Flockhart’s tepid love interest on Fox’s departing “Ally McBeal” and Quentin Tarantino performing an espionage arc on ABC’s freshman hit “Alias.”

Ironically, however, despite the high-profile nature of some of the performers involved, guest-star Emmys aren’t presented during the big televised awards presentation, but rather during the nontelevised creative arts kudos eight days earlier.

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