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Casting Call

Recycled From Last Season

September 20, 1998|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

George Clooney is one of the biggest names on TV thanks to "ER," but it took him nearly eight years and almost as many series to achieve superstar status.

Producers and network executives kept putting him in shows because they knew he had something special. "He was always great," says Peter Golden, senior vice president of talent and casting at CBS, "whether it be in 'Baby Talk' or 'Roseanne."'

Several regulars on new fall series find hope in that story. Wendell Pierce, Leah Remini, Marc Feuerstein, Debra Messing and Jeffrey D. Sams all appeared in series last season that were cancelled but are getting another shot at stardom.

Pierce, best known from "Waiting to Exhale," is actually appearing in his third CBS series in a row. "I went from a one-hour drama, 'Maloney,' with Peter Strauss, and then I did 'The Gregory Hines Show,"' he says.

This season, Pierce is playing a former baseball player turned sportscaster on the CBS comedy "The Brian Benben Show."

"I guess I'm kind of like the kid who moves a lot," Pierce says, laughing. "The one who makes friends at new schools all the time. In a way, it's a challenge because it's something ideal for an actor. You try to do different things and be as diverse as possible. Unfortunately, you know you don't have time to continue to develop a character that you start one year. It forces you to begin to develop a new character."

Still, Pierce, who realizes many stars of failed series disappear, feels "very blessed" that he keeps working.

CBS, Golden says, loves Pierce because he's a "wonderful" actor and "great" with comedy. "It's great to have a good actor who can do comedy in a drama, and that's what he did in 'Maloney,' which was essentially a light drama. He brought so much energy to what he did in 'Maloney' that we knew it would translate [in a comedy]. He was great in 'Gregory Hines."'

When the role came up on "Benben," says Golden, "we had talked about a few people, and a couple of people came in and read. Everybody kept going back to the thought of Wendell. I think he will once again bring a great layered performance. He can have moments where you really feel for him, and in other moments he's really funny. There's something that makes you want to watch this person."

Golden feels the same about Remini, who stars with comic Kevin James in the CBS comedy, "The King of Queens." She appeared last year on NBC's "Fired Up" with Sharon Lawrence .

"You just want to watch her," Golden says. "Her chemistry with Kevin James is so great."

Remini, who also appeared in 1989 on NBC's Saturday morning series, "Saved by the Bell," says it was weird to report to work on a new show this fall.

"It's, like, all new writers, a new dressing room," she says, laughing. "It's like when you go to seventh grade. You're in the same school from first to sixth grade and then you go to a totally new school and you see your friends once in a while."

The actress shot the pilot for "King of Queens" while she was still on "Fired Up." "It's this thing called second position," she explains. "You can do another show, but only in second position, meaning if 'Fired Up' got picked up, they would have to have recast [the role on 'King']."

Initially, Remini didn't want to do "King of Queens," in which she plays the wife of a delivery man. "Originally, it was written just for the 'wife.' They wanted me for it, but they knew I didn't want to be a woman who is cooking and cleaning. That's not what women do all the time."

So she met with the staff, and with James. "We did a little riff in the room and the writers were, like, 'What can we do? We want to put your voice in there!,"' she says. "You don't come across that a lot."

Like Pierce, Messing is starring in her third series in as many years. She appeared in Fox's "Ned and Stacey" and last season's short-lived ABC sci-fi thriller "Prey." This season, she stars in the NBC comedy "Will & Grace," as a single career woman whose best friend is a gay man.

Messing says this series feels different than her other two. "For me, it feels like I'm sort of a freshman, because it's NBC," she says. "It's sort of wishing and hoping that you will be accepted by the big kids and everybody will be nice to you and you'll make it to sophomore year."

The actress is keeping her fingers crossed that this series makes it. "It was funny going to press tour this year," she recalls. "I walked into the room and [journalists] were, like, 'Welcome back, Debra. Every year you're here. Good to see you.' I'd say, 'Good to see you too. How is your daughter?' We've become friends now. They said, 'We hope to see you back again next year.' I said, 'I hope I'm back next year, but not on another show. I want to be on the same show.'

"From your mouth to God's ears, I hope I have the kind of career George Clooney has."

Like Remini, Messing was still on "Prey"' when she was offered "Will & Grace."

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