Names are the game in pilot casting

Familiar faces eye new places on fall TV schedule

More familiar names are already dotting the cast lists of broadcast projects in development than the 2011-12 primetime schedule can possibly accommodate, making for a suspenseful pilot season.

Looking to recapture his 1990s “Home Improvement” heyday, Tim Allen will return to ABC for the untitled pilot from Jack Burditt (“30 Rock”). Allen will play a man who bristles in a life that he finds increasingly dominated by women.

Christine Lahti, who spent several seasons on CBS medical drama “Chicago Hope” in the late 1990s, will once again put on the stethoscope for the Eye in “The Doctor.” And after nearly a decade focused on a film career, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” heroine Sarah Michelle Gellar is exploring TV anew in the CBS contender “Ringer,” playing both a woman on the run from the mob and her twin sister. Nestor Carbonell (“Lost”) and Ioan Gruffudd (“Fantastic Four”) co-star.

In addition to Carbonell, at least four other “Lost”-ies will be in contention for 2011-12 primetime slots. Jorge Garcia is part of an ensemble for Fox’s time-traveling “Alcatraz” that also includes Parminder Nagra (“ER”), Sam Neill (“The Tudors”) and Robert Forster (“Jackie Brown”), as well as Sarah Jones (“Big Love”) and Santiago Cabrera (“Heroes”).

Cheech Marin, who played the father of Garcia’s Hurley on “Lost,” joins Fox comedy “Outnumbered” with Ana Ortiz (“Ugly Betty”).

Unforgettable “Lost” nemesis Michael Emerson is a lead in the J.J. Abrams-exec produced, CBS-targeted “Person of Interest,” as a billionaire who teams with an ex-CIA agent to fight violent crimes. Henry Ian Cusick, who played Desmond on “Lost,” joins Kerry Washington on an untitled project from Shonda Rhimes for ABC about a crisis management consultant.

Kat Dennings is booked for a spot in CBS comedy “Two Broke Girls” from Whitney Cummings, and with a role on CBS drama “The Rookies,” Leelee Sobieski is in place for a return to the net whose 1999 “Joan of Arc” miniseries effectively launched her career.

CBS also targeted two personalities with comedy-variety pedigrees for series. “Saturday Night Live” alum Rob Schneider heads an untitled project as a man who marries into a tight-knit Mexican-American family, while “The Daily Show” grad Rob Riggle joins Constance Zimmer (“Entourage”) in “Home Game,” a laffer about a retired NFL player and his family. Another “Daily Show” expatriate, Rob Corddry, will co-star in Fox comedy pilot “Little in Common” with Paula Marshall (“Gary Unmarried”).

NBC is also well supplied with names that ring a bell — like Maria Bello, who spent 1997-98 on the Peacock’s “ER” before launching full thrust into her film career. Bello will front the much-discussed adaptation of “Prime Suspect,” while “Friday Night Lights” co-star Adrianne Palicki is the centerpiece of NBC’s “Wonder Woman.”

Former “Will and Grace” star Debra Messing is featured in NBC’s “Smash,” an hourlong with a Steven Spielberg imprimatur about the creation of a Broadway musical. Jack Davenport (“Swingtown”) and Katherine McPhee (“American Idol”) co-star.

Also for NBC, Stockard Channing is suiting up for supernatural cop drama “17th Precinct,” Amanda Peet will star in comedy “Bent,” Laura Prepon (playing Chelsea Handler) and Chelsea Handler (not playing Chelsea Handler) will take on “Are You There Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea,” and Ed Begley Jr. is part of the ensemble of “Brave New World.”

Gary Cole, who has shown his dark comedy chops in efforts from “Office Space” to “Entourage,” leads Fox laffer “Tagged,” set at a coroner’s office. Fox is also trying Mike O’Malley, a guest actor Emmy winner for “Glee,” as a series regular in single-cam comedy “Family Album,” along with casting Geoff Stults (“October Road”), Michael Clarke Duncan (“The Green Mile”) and Saffron Burrows (“Law and Order: Criminal Intent”) in drama “The Finder.”

Fox has Ethan Hawke set for spy thriller “Exit Strategy” and Zooey Deschanel for Fox’s untitled Liz Meriwether project, about a woman who suddenly finds herself living with three men. At CBS, Patrick Wilson appears in its untitled Susannah Grant drama pilot.

Minka Kelly, who has built upon her “Friday Night Lights” pedigree with a recurring role on “Parenthood,” scored one of the leads in ABC’s new “Charlie’s Angels” alongside two relative unknowns, Annie Ilonzeh (“General Hospital”) and Rachael Taylor (Australia’s “Headland”). (Another ABC casting from Down Under is Margot Robbie in “Pan Am.”)

Krysten Ritter’s excellence on “Breaking Bad” didn’t go unnoticed by ABC, which pressed her into service in comedy “Apartment 23” with onetime “Dawson’s Creek” lead James Van Der Beek and Dreama Walker (“Gossip Girl”).

Kyle Howard, who a year ago was slotted for NBC’s “Perfect Couples” but had to bow out because the imminent cancelation of “My Boys” hadn’t quite arrived, is the first fella cast in ABC’s “Smothered,” a multicam laffer about a young couple with in-law trouble.

Jesse L. Martin (“Law and Order”) will work with exec producers Marc Cherry and Sabrina Wind in “Hallelujah,” an ABC drama about faith in a town torn apart, while Orlando Jones (“Mad TV”) just locked up a role in the Alphabet net’s crime drama “Identity,” Eric Roberts is blessing “Grace” with his presence and Annie Wersching (“24”) and Lawrence Gilliard, Jr. (“The Wire”) are set for drama “Partners” with Michael Beach and Eloise Mumford, whose former “Lone Star” beau James Wolk is bound for ABC’s “Georgetown.”

Rachel Bilson made her name as a co-star on Fox’s “The OC,” but she takes centerstage on the CW’s “Hart of Dixie,” about a big-city doctor who inherits a medical practice in an oddball Southern town.

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