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3 Castings You Missed: Viola Davis, Taraji P. Henson, and Ashley Judd Returning to TV

By Brett Gold – Feb 27, 2014 at 8:05PM

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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 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.

Viola Davis, How to Get Away With Murder (ABC)

(Credit: Indiewire)

Academy Award nominee Viola Davis has signed on as the anchor star of ABC's (a subsidiary of Disney (DIS 3.36%)How yo Get Away With Murder, a new drama from Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes. The role is Davis' return to series TV after appearing on such shows as The United States of Tara and Law & Order. Murder is a legal thriller that centers on a criminal defense professor and her ambitious students who become wrapped up in a murder plot that is beyond anything they expected.

Impact on network

Anytime Rhimes comes to ABC with a new series idea, the network is smart enough to listen. Murder was one of the most intriguing concepts on ABC's development slate, but had yet to cast any big names in its first few announcements. Davis joining the series is a major win for the network as they snared a talented and respected actress for a role that needed an "A-list" name to pull it off. Potentially having a third Rhimes show on its lineup and a second fronted by a powerful African-American actress will send a message to its rivals and at the same time help create more (much needed) diversity on TV.

Taraji P. Henson, Empire (Fox)

(Credit: CBS)

The surprise (mutual) exit of Taraji P. Henson from CBS' Person of Interest was one of 2013's biggest storylines, but as it turns out the actress may not be away for long. This week the Oscar nominee signed on opposite her Hustle & Flow co-star Terrence Howard for Fox's (FOXA) new drama Empire. The project revolves around Howard's character, Lucious Lyon. He's a music mogul/businessman who on the eve of taking his company (Empire) public, must contend with his ex-partner and ex-wife Cookie, who after serving 17 years in prison (for crimes that Lucious profited off of), is getting out early and wants her share. Lee Daniels' The Butler director Lee Daniels and Game Change's Danny Strong will serve as executive producers.

Impact on network

Both Howard and Henson are top-tier names for Fox to add to its 2014-15 slate. The network has ditched the pilot process, so the odds of this hitting the schedule are very strong. Howard's hoping for a better experience on TV this time around as his last series regular role, Law & Order: Los Angeles, quickly flopped. Regardless he remains a big name and paired with Henson, who was a major presence on Interest for her entire run, will make a formidable team. Fox's new development process means more certainty for actors and offering that type of guarantee seems to be netting them big talent (and equally big producers).

Ashley Judd, Salvation (NBC)

(Credit: ABC)

Last week Common Law star Warren Kole, was among the first big names to join NBC's (a subsidiary of Comcast (CMCSA 3.27%)Salvation and this week it was revealed he'll be joined by Emmy nominee Ashley Judd. The series follows the Strickland family who run one of Texas' largest megachurches. But when their patriarch unexpectedly dies the responsibility of keeping things running falls to his wife (Judd), a smart, savvy Southern woman who decides to take over her late husband's congregation. Tony nominee Stark Stands (Kinky Boots) has also been announced as the Strickland's oldest child.

Impact on network

Ashley Judd is no stranger to TV and most recently fronted ABC's Missing, which was never found by audiences. However to the shock of many, the network submitted her for Emmy consideration under the "Guest Actress" category and it worked. While she didn't win, the nomination was really the award as it was a clever idea (that was surprisingly legal) and continued to cement Judd as a top-tier name (despite the show failing). That genius move set her up in good position for this pilot season. She'll return to NBC, where she co-starred on Sisters in its final seasons. Judd's presence on any network's roster is headline grabbing in its own right and makes Salvation one to keep an eye on.

Brett Gold has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. 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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