Recasting Roles After Pilot Season

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Photo Source: ABC

When a pilot is picked up to series by a major television network, it can be career-changing for many actors. For some, however, it signifies the moment they find out they are being replaced.

Shortly after NBC announced it was picking up "Animal Practice," a sitcom starring Justin Kirk as an ornery veterinarian, and undercover-cop drama "Infamous" for the 2012-2013 television season, the network revealed that prominent roles in both shows would be recast before the series premiered. This was followed by news that other NBC pickups, including the comedy "Guys With Kids," from executive producer Jimmy Fallon; J.J. Abrams' post-apocalyptic adventure "Revolution"; and Anne Heche's "Save Me," will undergo cast changes before premiering. Roles in the new Fox shows "The Following" and "Goodwin Games" are also being recast.

"Certainly, the goal is to think that the first actor is going to work in the role, and there's no need to recast," said casting director Ross Meyerson, who with longtime partner Julie Tucker cast the pilots for "Infamous" and the new CBS legal drama "Made in Jersey."

Although he could not discuss the details at press time, Meyerson and Tucker are now responsible for recasting a key role in "Made in Jersey," played by Pablo Schreiber in the pilot. They have not taken on casting duties for future episodes of "Infamous." Aside from whether or not someone is a good actor, though, a change in the creative direction of a show can lead to shakeups in the cast.

"Sometimes when roles are being recast, it's not due to the actor -- it's due to the story," Meyerson said. "It's always a possibility that after they shoot [the pilot] they realize that the storyline doesn't work and they want to change the character."

This year several lead roles were recast before the pilots were even filmed. Abby Elliott ("Saturday Night Live") was replaced by Dakota Johnson in the Fox comedy pilot "Ben Fox Is My Manny," which will debut this season under the title "Ben and Kate." Theo James took over the lead role in CBS' "Golden Boy" after Ryan Phillippe dropped out. Supporting roles in new comedies such as NBC's "1600 Penn" and CBS's "Partners" were reworked after the initial table reads as well, leading to cast changes prior to production on the pilots.

Due to the inherent uncertainty of pilot season, actors may be hired in "second position," even though they've already made a commitment to another new or returning show.

After Sara Rue replaced Courtney Henggeler this year in the pilot for "Guys With Kids," for example, Rue was forced to leave the show because her other pilot, "Malibu Country," co-starring Reba McEntire and Lily Tomlin, was picked up by ABC. Rue was in second position for "Guys With Kids," so "Malibu Country" took first priority when it was picked up to series. As a result, Rue's character in the NBC comedy will need to be recast or written out of the show entirely.

"I can't think of a time that we've ever auditioned or tested anybody in second position," Meyerson said. "The studios don't want to take that risk, so I've never shot a pilot with an actor in second position. Reshooting is an expensive proposition."

Last year Damon Wayans Jr. was cast as one of the roommates in Fox's "New Girl" pilot, but he was not able to continue with the series because ABC picked up his comedy "Happy Endings" for a second season. Rather than reshoot, his character was replaced in the second episode.

With such a hectic schedule -- casting for more than 90 pilots is completed in less than two months -- last-minute changes and casting compromises abound. So do opportunities.

Given the working title "Oh Fuck, It's You," it might not be shocking that Greg Malins and Greg Berlanti's CBS comedy pilot didn't make it to series. But JoAnna Garcia, who co-starred in the pilot, quickly landed on her feet. She replaced Irish actor Amy Huberman in "Animal Practice."

"The fact that she is not going to be in the series is a major disappointment but typical of pilot season, and Amy was well aware that things like this could happen," Huberman's spokeswoman told the Belfast Telegraph after Huberman learned she would be replaced.

And the casting carousel continues.

Daniel Lehman is a staff writer at Back Stage. Follow him on Twitter: @byDanLehman