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3 TV Castings You Missed: Breaking Bad's Jonathan Banks, Dexter's Jennifer Carpenter, and Tea Leoni

By Brett Gold - Feb 2, 2014 at 12:39PM

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As we get closer to upfronts, a number of actors are signing up for lead roles on the small screen that could give networks a big advantage come the fall.

As pilot season continues, more and more big stars are coming off the network's version of a draft board. A number of celebs will commit to projects over the next few weeks, and then it will be up to executives to decide which concepts are the most profitable. Keep in mind that it isn't just pilots netting big stars, however -- in the last few days, an upcoming drama landed a big name of its own!

Jonathan Banks

Credit: AMC

Let's knock the green-lit drama out of the way first because it just made one of the biggest signings so far. Jonathan Banks, who played Mike Ehrmantraut on AMC's (AMCX 4.49%) Breaking Bad, signed on this week as a full-time cast member for the Emmy-winning series' upcoming spin-off Better Call Saul.

Banks, who became a fan favorite playing the gruff enforcer on the Vince Gilligan-created series, has seen a career resurgence in the last few years. Here, he'll reprise his Emmy-nominated role alongside breakout star Bob Odenkirk.

Impact on network

This is a big casting for AMC as Banks and Odenkirk stole the majority of the scenes they were in. For them to now be partnered for this spin-off makes it even more impressive, and boosts the already high expectations for the show. AMC really needs a new hit series with Bad over and Mad Men beginning its long goodbye shortly. Saul has the potential to be a huge smash hit for the network. Although we've seen big projects fall flat before, with Banks now on board, the pieces look to be coming together nicely.

Jennifer Carpenter

Credit: Showtime

With Dexter in the books, it was expected that series star Jennifer Carpenter would be a big name in play for the upcoming pilot season. Sure enough, it didn't take long for someone to snatch her up. Disney's (DIS 2.33%) ABC announced this week Carpenter would front Sea of Fire, a new drama pilot about a town sent into a spiral after three teenage girls star in a pornographic film. The result is a chain reaction that leads to a disappearance and a murder. Carpenter will play an FBI agent brought in to solve the case.

Impact on network

Carpenter is very likable and after years on pay cable, the jump to a broadcast network seems like a natural fit. For ABC, it's actually par for the course. Between Jennifer Morrison (Once Upon A Time), Kerry Washington (Scandal), and the tag team of Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere (Nashville), the network is known for giving strong female actresses a chance to shine.

If the pilot is picked up, Carpenter would join some elite company. The casting would also continue to position the network as a top destination for female audiences. It's a smart move for the network and one that could draw in Dexter's loyal audience.

Tea Leoni

Credit: Paramount

Earlier this week, CBS (PARA 3.92%) officially picked up Madam Secretary, a new drama from executive producers Barbara Hall (Joan of Arcadia) and Oscar winner Morgan Freeman. As hinted at by the title, the series centers on a female Secretary of State who must balance her job and her family. Not long after the pickup, the network revealed that it had snagged Tea Leoni for the titular role.

Impact on network

Leoni is the latest in a LONG line of big names to join the Tiffany network's roster, and CBS would love to get another show on the air that focuses on a strong female character (in addition to The Good Wife.) In years past, the network has tried to make multiple projects work of this nature work, but none made a dent in ratings and fewer even got past the green-light stage.

With a strong pedigree behind the lens and Leoni now attached to go in front of it, there has been some buzz that this drama could buck the trend. If so, CBS' already strong roster of shows would get even stronger, which is something none of it competitors want to see.

Brett Gold owns shares of CBS. The Motley Fool recommends AMC Networks and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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