As we get closer to this year's upfronts, the networks are closing deals on a daily basis for their new top-tier projects. From movie stars looking to make the leap to TV to old favorites in new roles, it's hard to keep track of all the familiar faces you may see on your screen in 2014.
Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue, Gotham (Fox)
Fresh off his role as a cop on TNT's Southland, Ben McKenzie will don the badge again as the iconic comic book figure James Gordon for Fox's (NASDAQ:FOXA) Gotham. In the DC Comics world on which the series will be based, Gordon is Gotham City's police commissioner and frequent ally to its protector Batman.
The series, though, will follow Smallville's approach and show viewers how Gordon went from being a detective to the head of the department. A few days following McKenzie's signing, Sons of Anarchy alum Donal Logue also signed onto the project as Detective Harvey Bullock, another popular (but lesser known) DC character, who is Gordon's rough-around-the-edges partner and mentor.
Impact on network
The idea of doing an origin story series for a supporting character is very intriguing to the comic book community. Gordon is revered in the world of Batman and, like Bruce Wayne's loyal butler Alfred, has always been the voice of reason, despite the laundry list of tragedies to befall him and his family.
Fox made McKenzie a name with its breakout teen drama The O.C. and executives are pleased to have him back in the fold. Logue is by nature a comic actor who has effortlessly segued into the dramatic world. This appears to be a smart pairing for a show whose buzz will likely rival what The CW is expecting with its comic book adaption of The Flash.
Remember, Fox has done away the traditional pilot season, so all eyes will be on this slate and how it does. Gotham figures to be one of its marquee projects.
Laurence Fishburne - Black-ish (ABC)
The Oscar-nominated actor may be better known for his work in film, but over the past few years Fishburne's given TV a try with impressive results. Here, though, he will tackle his first comedy role in Black-ish, a title that seems to be flip-flopping regularly between that and Untitled Anthony Anderson Comedy. Either way, he'll play the father of comedian Anthony Anderson (Guys With Kids), who like Fishburne is also a executive producer on the project for ABC (a subsidiary of Disney (NYSE:DIS)). The premise revolves around Anderson's character, an upper-middle-class father who struggles to make sure his kids don't lose sight of their African-American heritage as they grow up.
Impact on network
Fishburne's first major TV lead role was as Dr. Raymond Langston on CBS' procedural CSI before joining the cast of NBC's Hannibal, which will return post-Olympics. The actor has an imposing presence on screen, which made him a natural to headline dramas, but hasn't really gone the comedic route before.
The role sounds perfect for him, though. Anderson is a comic actor by trade so the two should work well off each other. For ABC, this is a big signing. Any time you can get a popular film actor of Fishburne's caliber to join one of your network's projects, it gives you an edge on your rivals. ABC could use a few more bold-face names to round out its development slate, but this is a strong addition. And as a note to Hannibal fans … should the show go to series, Fishburne would reportedly be able to stay on the drama should that get renewed for a third season.
Greta Gerwig - How I Met Your Dad (CBS)
The spin-off of CBS' (NYSE:CBS) hit series How I Met Your Mother now has its lead. The role was announced this week, going to indie actress Greta Gerwig, who is best known for her work in Francis Ha and No Strings Attached. Gerwig will play the Josh Radnor, Ted-like role as the main character explaining how she found her significant other. The difference here is (aside from the narrator gender switch) Gerwig's character Sally will already be married as the show starts, but quickly realizes she made the wrong choice and will be back on the lookout for her true love.
Impact on network
For the many of you who have no idea who this woman is and why CBS would choose her to front arguably the biggest comedy pilot on its slate, here's the background. Gerwig is one of today's top independent actresses and has a strong following in the important 18-49 demo. Her signing was important enough to the network to offer to shift production of the series to New York (should the show get picked up) in order to lure her into signing on. Gerwig would also serve as a producer and writer. The network sees mainstream potential in her and soon the public may as well.
Brett Gold owns shares of CBS. The Motley Fool recommends 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.