Critics and viewers agree that these fellas from this season’s rookie or first-time-eligible series proved they can carry the lead or offer generous support whenever it’s needed.
Ty Burrell & Ed O’Neill
With a 10-person cast producing about 22 minutes of content each week, actors on “Modern Family” are like hockey players on a series of line changes. Opportunities to score come and go quickly — even for Ty Burrell and Ed O’Neill, two of the most prominent thesps on the ABC comedy — but it pays off over a long season.
“Definitely, pacing is something … I had to really think about,” says Burrell, who plays self-proclaimed cool dad Phil Dunphy. “There’s the end-of-the-season challenge, and there’s also just learning to work through a day and still have energy to try to come up with ideas at four in the afternoon instead of just in the morning. But everybody is dealing with it, and nobody is dealing with it more than the writers do.”
That energy is important on a show that Burrell says doesn’t rely on improv but certainly values it.
“I would say more often than not, we don’t end up with what’s scripted and we don’t end up with improv, we end up with a kind of collaborative thing where we (including the director and writing staff) end up oftentimes just creating something totally different on the fly,” he says.
Burrell adds he and the cast have learned by watching O’Neill, who took on the role of “Modern Family” patriarch Jay Pritchett more than a decade after finishing 262 episodes as the lead of Fox’s “Married … With Children.”
— Jon Weisman
“The Good Wife”
Josh Charles says it’s the flaws and contradiction that make his role as attorney Will Gardner on CBS’ legal drama “The Good Wife” work as a character.
“He’s really developed into a complex character — more so than I was expecting — and I really like that,” says Charles. “It’s been fun to explore a character who walks a moral and ethical tightrope.”
Charles sees Gardner as someone whose ordered life was thrown into turmoil when former college flame Alicia Florrick, played by Juliana Margulies, comes to work for him at a time when the recession is forcing him to make difficult decisions to keep his law firm afloat.
“Even though he has been very successful, he’s been ignoring a part of himself, his personal life,” he says. “So there’s a bit of a sort of a void and I think her coming back into his life has reawakened him.”
Charles cites the episode “Heart,” as his favorite so far. The midseason segment reignited the spark between Florrick and Gardner, who also has to choose between doing the right thing for his client and protecting his firm.
“You got to see a little chink in the character, in the armor of Will Gardner, as someone who tries to keep it all calm and collected,” he says.
Making the first season of “The Good Wife” — the actor’s first regular hourlong network drama — has been a satisfying process.
“The material is very challenging, and obviously the hours are long on the set, but creatively I’ve been challenged and surprised by it,” Charles says.
–Thomas J. McLean
Scott Bakula & Andre Braugher
“Men of a Certain Age”
The three main “Men of a Certain Age” are also actors of a certain age, meaning they shouldn’t have much to prove at this stage of their careers.
But when TV vets Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher began circling producer-star Ray Romano’s TNT dramedy (co-created with Mike Royce), there was a sincere, if optimistic, feeling-out process.
“Here’s a fact: I play a lot of heavies,” says Braugher, the fiery standout from “Homicide” and other projects. “They’re concerned whether I can do the comic aspects of the material. I’m confident that I can, but I need someone that believes in me.”
Bakula, whose credits as a TV lead date back more than two decades, says he hadn’t auditioned “in a while” for a smallscreen role, but he not only didn’t mind coming in to read with Romano, he welcomed the opportunity.
“I didn’t feel like it was based on indecision or inexperience,” Bakula recalls. “It was really in a true attempt to get a feel about chemistry, and to be quite honest, I was using it to get a feeling about how I felt about them.”
The process paid off, as Bakula and Braugher proved perfect fits in the highly nuanced roles of an aging Lothario/actor and a family man frustrated with working for his difficult father. And when the time came, the actors’ experience took over.
“In Ray and Scott, we’re dealing with mature performers (who can) understand the demands of the material and relate with the characters,” Braugher says.
— Jon Weisman
Adam Braverman is a loving husband, devoted dad, hard worker, responsible older brother and the go-to guy for advice and support for his entire extended family.
But scripts during the freshman season of the NBC drama “Parenthood” — a hit for the Peacock that eventually overtook CBS’ “The Good Wife” in the 18-49 demo in the 10 p.m. Tuesday timeslot — never required Adam, played by Peter Krause, to reveal an “S” on his chest. Instead, they took him on a 13-episode journey where he was forced to learn there are some things that he simply can’t fix for his family.
“Adam is a person with a full range of human emotions who doesn’t wear a badge or a surgeon’s mask or anything like that,” Krause says. “He’s a guy who’s dealing with his marriage and family, and trying to do a good job with both.”
Not unlike real-life families, Adam and his wife Kristina (Monica Potter) have faced several challenges, which at times added tension to their relationship. Their son, Max (Max Burkholder), has Asperger’s syndrome, a diagnosis that was tough for Adam to accept, and his daughter, Haddie (Sarah Ramos), is frustrated because her brother for years has been the center of attention for Mom and Dad.
Krause, who previously starred in “Six Feet Under” and “Dirty Sexy Money,” has enjoyed the move to the neighborhood that is “Parenthood” — which is both dramatic and poignant and at times very funny.
“I can get my Dick Van Dyke on in the show, which I haven’t gotten to do in a few years,” he says.
— Jerry Rice
There’s definitely a lot of me in that character,” says Matthew Morrison of Will Schuester, his onscreen persona on “Glee,” Fox’s hit musical comedy. “If I never had the opportunity to go to New York City and had the success I had, then I probably would have gone back to the high school that I went to and taught musical theater.”
But the Tony-nominated singer and dancer — he won rave reviews in “Hairspray” and “The Light in the Piazza” — found “fast” success, which is why “Glee” series exec producers Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan and Brad Falchuk decided to cast Morrison as the cool but dedicated director of the school glee club.
“I was doing ‘South Pacific’ on Broadway and they all flew out to meet me,” explains Morrison of the “painless” audition process. “Then I flew to L.A. and right before I tested, Ryan Murphy came up to me and said, ‘You’re the guy.'”
In only its first season, the has show turned young and old alike into self-professed Gleeks, the term used to anoint “Glee” uberfans.
“Music is the universal language that everyone speaks,” says Morrison of the show’s mass appeal. “The days we do the musical numbers are so joyous, and the storylines speak to the outcast in all of us. Every single person alive has felt like an outcast, even if you’re the most popular kid in school. The show is extremely fun, but it’s extremely deep at some points, too. You never know where it’s going to take you.”
At the moment Morrison is writing and recording an album that he calls a mix of Michael Buble and Justin Timberlake, and is waiting to see what happens to Will Schuester next.
“I want to keep people guessing all the time,” says Morrison. “That’s my goal.”
— Malina Saval
Unlike “Deadwood,” where Timothy Olyphant would see David Milch on the set every day, “Justified” creator-exec producer Graham Yost mostly stays in the writing room. Yet, his inner voice is heard both loud and clear.
“His world is the writers’ room. That’s where he’s happiest and where is strength is, but he’s shown a willingness to allow me into the process,” says Olyphant of Yost, who has used his words to fully incorporate the actor into the world of Raylan Givens in the FX series, based on the short story “Fire in the Hole” by Elmore Leonard.
Olyphant, similar to Sheriff Seth Bullock of “Deadwood,” is very introspective and keeps his words to a minimum — knowing that the gun on his holster can do his talking for him if need be.
“In past years I was reluctant to invest in a character, just to keep it simple, but this was a different experience,” Olyphant explains. “I looked at this as an opportunity to get off the couch and not just show up. I find myself enjoying this job more than I ever have. This was a great opportunity, and I decided to go for it.”
Set in rural Kentucky, Olyphant’s Givens is as smooth with arch-nemesis Boyd Crowder (former “Shield” thesp Walton Goggins) as he is with either his ex-wife (Natalie Zea) or current flame (Joelle Carter).
Olyphant, who appeared on season two of “Damages,” could be an FX staple for awhile now. The ratings for “Justified” are strong, and the skein was picked up for a second season.
“It’s extremely rewarding,” he says. “When somebody says, ‘Roll camera,’ it’s like a vacation for me. It’s fun to be so engaged in the stories.”
— Stuart Levine
When “Damages” showrunners Daniel Zelman, Glenn Kessler and Todd A. Kessler offered Martin Short a supporting role on the show’s third season, he accepted for two reasons.
“I was a fan and had seen every episode,” he admitted, “which is odd because I only watch two series regularly. But also, I conuldn’t say no because they make everyone look so great on the show.”
Short’s portrayal of attorney Leonard Winstone was typical of what “Damages” does well: Take a character the audience thinks it knows and then unearth buried truths in the season’s final episodes. In Short’s case, Leonard’s dark past comes back to haunt him, revealing that he’s not who he says he is. Yet with all of his lying and deceit, Winstone still somehow manages to make it through the season alive.
This shift from comedy to drama may come as a surprise to some, but Short sees his run on the hourlong drama as just being one piece of the acting puzzle.
“In the United Kingdom, Judi Dench would do a sitcom, then she’d play Ophelia, then she would appear in a commercial for Kodak, then she’d show up in a James Bond movie,” he explains. “That’s just a typical year over there. When that happens here in America, there’s more talk about it, but you’re an actor. You either have a range of abilities or you don’t.”
With Winstone making it through the season unscathed, potential exists for a role reprise. Yet with each season being mostly a self-contained story arc, and with the fate of the show itself uncertain, Short assumes for now that his work on “Damages” is done.
But as with Ted Danson, who appeared in all three seasons, one never knows.
— Justin Shady
For Wendell Pierce, his role as womanizing trombone player Antoine Batiste in HBO’s “Treme” is more than a job. It’s a profound connection to the hometown he loves.
“The storytelling of David Simon is like a novelist introducing a multitude of characters and taking the time to build them,” says Pierce, who starred in all five seasons of Simon’s epic Baltimore drama “The Wire.” “This depiction of New Orleans is like we’ve never seen before on TV, where you see the nuances but not the caricatures.”
Antoine’s a man struggling with finances and a complicated love life with a young spitfire girlfriend, resilient ex-wife and assorted dalliances. “He’s not a dog,” Pierce says, “just a man reacting to the depression of the devastation around him by acting out.”
Not even able to afford a case for his horn, the proud but broke Antoine approaches his ex-wife’s husband — a dentist now raising his children — for medical help. The most piercing moments crept through wordless interactions.
“TV is nervous about not filling every minute, but this show trusts the actors creating this world,” Pierce says. “Every actor wants challenging moments given to them, and David Simon gives you that in every episode.”
Recently Pierce was stopped on the street by a woman who told him that after watching “Treme,” her six friends booked a flight from Cleveland to New Orleans immediately.
“I’d love to get Emmys for ‘Treme,’ but ultimately when a woman says I saw your show and bought a ticket to New Orleans, that’s the greatest award ever,” says Pierce.
— Susan Young