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10 Actors Seeking a Comeback This Pilot Season

10 Actors Seeking a Comeback This Pilot Season

Wesley Snipes

If this list were a competition, Wesley Snipes would win this hands-down: the “Blade” actor is lining up his first potential starring role since finishing up a three-year prison sentence (for tax fraud) in April 2013. After competing with (and ultimately losing to) Terrence Howard for the lead in FOX’s smash hit “Empire” last year, Snipes has nailed down a starring role in the NBC drama pilot “Endgame.” He stars opposite Philip Winchester (“Strike Back”) in the Las Vegas-set thriller, which examines the convergence of crime, gambling and conspiracy in Sin City. It comes from “The Blacklist” executive producers John Davis and John Fox, and the description for Snipes’ character, Johnson, reads as follows: “An unflappable guy with a dry sense of humor. Highly intelligent and analytical. Mysterious and unreadable.” Once the star of the hottest vampire franchise around, Snipes is hoping “Endgame” is the path to a comeback. 

Chevy Chase

It’s been a period of highs and lows for Chevy Chase: Though an integral cast member of one of television’s most acclaimed sitcoms, “Community,” he unceremoniously quit after a series of vicious encounters with creator Dan Harmon. Chase’s reputation in and beyond Hollywood has been worse than it is at present, but the former “SNL” Weekend Update anchor is still a long way from his glory days. He’s now been tapped as the lead of a comedy pilot for the first time, and it’s got quite a pedigree: Chase stars with another comeback-seeking performer, Beverly D’Angelo, in the family sitcom “Chev and Bev.” From “Arrested Development” writer Brad Copeland, the pilot introduces an elderly married couple living a selfish and carefree lifestyle — until they’re abruptly tasked with taking care of their grandchildren. If the pilot makes it to series, it’ll be interesting to see if viewers will warm again to Chase as a leading funnyman.

Whoopi Goldberg

After a decade of isolated sitcom appearances, cameos in studio comedies and major parts in a few TV movies, Whoopi Goldberg is making a serious claim to get back in the acting spotlight. The longtime “View” co-host is set as the co-lead opposite Jermaine Fowler in “Delores & Jermaine,” a generational comedy about an unmotivated millennial who moves in with his estranged grandmother. Goldberg, an Oscar- and Golden Globe-winning actress, hasn’t done anything especially noteworthy outside of “The View” in quite some time — but hers isn’t the only comeback in the equation here. “Delores & Jermaine” is one of a dozen or so multi-camera pilots this season, a format quickly fading in the broadcast television landscape.

Justin Long

Justin Long has never been the most in-demand leading man around, but for a while there he was as much a ubiquitous and comforting presence as any. After a string of memorable roles in mid-2000s movies like “Dodgeball” and “Live Free or Die Hard,” the 36 year-old actor has undeniably fallen in prominence: Aside from guest spots in sitcoms such as “New Girl” and “The Michael J. Fox Show,” Long has been restricted to appearing in much smaller movies that haven’t really gone anywhere. For the second pilot season in a row, however, he’s got a chance to lead a network comedy with “Irreversible,” based on the popular Israeli series about an eccentric young couple. Word is that the pilot order hinges on whether ABC can find a suitable female lead, but with the right screen partner, Long’s dorky charm might do the trick once more. 

Zach Gilford

“Friday Night Lights” only ended four years ago, but Zach Gilford has already managed to star in two failed series (“Off the Map” and “The Mob Doctor”) and a pilot that didn’t even make it that far (USA’s “Stanistan”). Whether or not you think that means he’s due for a comeback, Gilford showed some serious acting chops during his time on “FNL,” and for this writer anyway, it’s about time he gets to sink his teeth in another decent part. He’s been cast opposite Liam James (“The Way, Way Back”) in “Flesh and Blood,” a pilot about a politician’s son (James) who returns to his family after being presumed dead for a decade. Gilford plays the “self-destructive” older brother, and buzz on the script is high. This is the kind of concept that can go very right or very wrong — in the hands of “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy” co-executive producer Jenna Bans, it’s hard to lean either way — but here’s to hoping that the fourth time is the charm for QB Matt Saracen. 

Jenna Elfman

It’s been a long post-“Dharma and Greg” road for Jenna Elfman. The Golden Globe-winning sitcom star has led four short-lived comedy series (most recently, “Growing Up Fisher”) and starred in at least as many failed pilots. But Elfman, who recently demonstrated surprising dramatic range with an arc on the Glenn Close drama “Damages,” is back at it yet again. Her latest pilot, an untitled multi-camera project from “Friends with Better Lives” creator Dana Klein, is told from the point-of-view of a rattled working mother (Elfman) as she competes with her stay-at-home sister-in-law (Liza Lapira). In the many Elfman-led sitcoms that have come and gone recently, the actress has often been better than the material she’s had to work with. Solid guest roles in “Shameless” and “Royal Pains” notwithstanding, Elfman is a sitcom veteran if there ever was one — might Klein’s pilot finally match her up with the right material?

John Stamos

“Full House” breakout John Stamos is close to his own sitcom. The untitled project, which co-stars Josh Peck (“Drake & Josh”), features Stamos as a version of himself, in which a longtime bachelor learns simultaneously that he’s both a father and a grandfather. Stamos was a part of “ER”‘s final years and has recently recurred on Ryan Murphy’s “Glee” and “The New Normal,” but for the most part, his acting work has been limited to isolated guest spots and TV movies. It’s unclear if Stamos has the fan-base necessary to facilitate the kind of comeback this sitcom is clearly aiming for, but it’s safe to say that Stamos’ natural charm and charisma can work well with the right kind of writing. This pilot was scribed by Danny Chun, who previously wrote for “The Simpsons,” “The Office” and “Happy Endings”: In other words, there’s reason to be optimistic on this one.

Joan Allen

Joan Allen is a three-time Oscar nominee, Tony winner and, setting superlatives aside, superb actress all-around. Between roles in “The Contender,” “Pleasantville” and “The Crucible,” the actress has long proven her impressive range and prodigious talent. But “Flesh and Blood,” the aforementioned Jenna Bams pilot co-starring Zach Gilford, is undeniably the biggest opportunity she’s had in a while. Playing a high-profile politician and matriarch of a family of secrets, Allen gets to take center-stage after segueing to television with supporting roles in HBO’s “Luck” and Netflix’s “The Killing.” Aside from her memorable embodiment of Georgia O’Keeffe in the eponymous Lifetime telefilm, Allen has been sorely underused in the past decade, a reflection of the sad reality faced by too many actresses of a certain age. But Bams comes from the world of Shonda Rhimes, out of which writers have handed career-best parts to the likes of Kerry Washington and Viola Davis. Hopefully, Allen can join in their ranks.

Eric McCormack

After brief runs on the under-the-radar TNT dramas “Trust Me” and “Perception,” Eric McCormack is going for a necessary change of pace. The dramatic pilot “Studio City” follows a fame-bound singer who comes of age while living with her songwriter father (McCormack) — who she’s just learned is a top-notch drug dealer. It’s an interesting, ambitious choice for the Emmy-winning “Will and Grace” star, whose more recent roles (including guest spots on “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and “The Mysteries of Laura”) haven’t stretched him especially far. The pilot also has an interesting backstory: it’s based on the real-life experiences of Krista Vernoff, a former producer/writer on “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Shameless.”

Jane Curtin

On the Weekend Update edition of “SNL 40,” former anchor Jane Curtin swiftly reminded us of just how funny she is. And TV executives were clearly paying attention — the “Saturday Night Live” veteran has been cast in a principal role in the high-concept pilot “48 Hours ‘Til Monday,” in which one man (played by Rob Riggle) desperately tries to save a weekend from going “completely to hell.” Curtin, in a smart piece of casting, will play Riggle’s excessively-laid-back mother-in-law; it’s one of the few sitcom pilots I can already envision working, based on the delightful image of Riggle and Curtin’s comedic energies playing off of one another. Set to air on FOX, this potential series also has a great writer behind it: Charlie Grandy, the man behind some of the brightest episodes of “The Mindy Project,” “The Office” and more. But above all else, it’ll be great to have Curtin on the small-screen again.

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