HOLLYWOOD — Hungry for a new generation of scripted series hits, NBC execs weren’t taking any chances while casting their pilots this spring.
As a result, Peacock recast an unusual number of thesps this season — including roles on one drama and four comedies — just days before production began.
All told, NBC swapped out Michael Madsen for Michael Biehn on the drama “Hawaii”; traded Beverly D’Angelo for Shelley Long on the untitled Marsh McCall sitcom pilot; replaced Eric Christian Olsen with Michael Landes on the untitled Tarses/Wrubel comedy pilot; and benched Chester Gregory and JK Simmons in favor of Khary Payton and Steve Hytner on the sitcom “D.O.T.S.”
Network also made changes on laffer pilot “The Men’s Room.”
According to NBC programming president Kevin Reilly, the recastings came about for a variety of reasons. Some thesps ultimately were uninterested or unable to continue in their roles, while in other cases, the network got cold feet upon watching the actors in action.
“I am personally tough on casting,” Reilly said. “The worst thing you can do is talk yourself into a piece of casting that feels off.”
Reilly said casting mistakes sometimes occur when a thesp is hired based on a simple audition.
“The way you cast these things to begin with is sometimes casting is piecemeal, and you don’t have the luxury of people reading together,” he said. “Then you go to the table read and find out the chemistry isn’t working. So much of comedy is chemistry-based.”
The recastings made for a rough late March for Reilly and his team, but the exec decided to make changes now, rather than take the easy route and stick it out through the pilot.
“You tend to be reluctant to do it. It’s hard to make changes on the fly,” Reilly said. “But, in several of these instances, the changes were made seamlessly, and we did it quickly enough that it didn’t chew up our production dates.”
But having gone through that harrowing process, Reilly said he believes the pilot system has to change. With networks and studios trying to tap into a finite pool of actors all at once, it’s hard to find the cast you truly want, he said.
“The condensed way we make these pilots so often results in compromises,” he said. “It’s a miracle when you look at a cast like ‘Will & Grace,’ how it all can come together in such a short amount of time. It’s just no way to make decisions, with millions of dollars at stake, to be under the gun winging it off a two-minute read on one or two scenes.”