MADELEINE BRAND, host:
If you're seeing a lot of familiar faces back on TV, you must be checking out the new fall lineup. The big networks are in the thick of premieres. And among the various family shows, medical dramas and sitcoms, commentator Andrew Wallenstein has spotted a trend: stars of the past getting a third chance,even if their most recent shows were total failures.
ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: Tonight begins the new ABC sitcom "Cougar Town," about a newly single mother dating again after going through a divorce.
(Soundbite of "Cougar Town")
Ms. COURTENEY COX (Actress): (As Jules) Would you give her a break? The dating pool is pretty limited when you get divorced at her age.
WALLENSTEIN: And if you don't understand the slang term cougar, this show probably isn't for you.
(Soundbite of television program, "Cougar Town")
Ms. COX: (As Jules) The point is, all of the single guys our age are either broken, gay or chasing younger girls.
WALLENSTEIN: "Cougar Town" also marks the return of Courteney Cox, who became a household name in the 1990s as part of the megahit NBC sitcom "Friends."
(Soundbite of television program, "Friends")
Ms. COX (Actress): (As Monica Geller) Hmm. This cake is amazing. Hmm.
Ms. JENNIFER ANISTON (Actress): (As Rachel Green) My god, get a room.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. COX: (As Monica) I would get a room with this cake…
WALLENSTEIN: In the risk-averse world of television, it should come as no surprise that an actress with a hit under her belt would land another job, but "Cougar Town" isn't Cox's first starring role post-"Friends." She played a sleazy tabloid editor a couple of years ago in the short-lived, FX series "Dirt."
(Soundbite of television program, "Dirt")
Ms. COX: (As Lucy Spiller) I've asked for the sales numbers twice. What's the top?
Unidentified Woman #1 (Actor): (As character) Terry's bringing them over.
Ms. COX: (As Lucy) Bringing them over? Call her.
WALLENSTEIN: Never amounted to much in the ratings, and that raises an interesting question: How come the failure of "Dirt" didn't kill Cox's chances to get another show? This is, after all, Hollywood, home to the saying: You're only as good as your last picture.
And Cox isn't exactly an aberration. At least seven different actors headlining new fall shows have careers that roughly follow the same pattern. Patricia Heaton and Kelsey Grammer are back this year in their own shows, even though they tanked two years ago in the same series, called "Back to You."
(Soundbite of television program, "Back to You")
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. PATRICIA HEATON (Actress): (As Kelly Carr) I'm just saying, I am not the only one who thinks you're rude.
Mr. KELSEY GRAMMER (Actor): (As Chuck Darling) Yeah? Well, you know what they call you? Miss Rigid.
WALLENSTEIN: And then there's Julianna Margulies, formerly of "ER."
(Soundbite of television program, "The Good Wife")
Ms. JULIANNA MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) The client is a second-grade schoolteacher, Jennifer...
Unidentified Woman #2 (Actor): (As character) Lewis.
Ms. MARGULIES: (As Alicia) She was arrested for killing her ex-husband?
Unidentified Woman #2: (As character) Making it look like a botched carjacking.
WALLENSTEIN: She's back this season with the new legal drama "The Good Wife," which shouldn't be confused with her last legal show, "Canterbury's Law," which lasted six episodes last year. Good luck, "Good Wife."
And while we're being catty, does being just one member of an ensemble cast like "ER" or "Friends" really qualify an actor for starhood? It's as if the networks expect these people to coast into viewers' hearts on the fumes of goodwill generated by their old shows.
Perhaps networks are willing to gamble on these actors because failure on TV happens so swiftly that nobody recalls it. I mean, do you remember "Canterbury's Law"?
The truth is, it's so much easier to market a show around a familiar face. It helps cut through the clutter of the fall season, but an easy sell doesn't necessarily make for a good show and this fall, the networks may find that out the hard way.
BRAND: That's commentator Andrew Wallenstein of the Hollywood Reporter.
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