Thursday, September 17, 2009

Our Favorite Stars Returning to TV This Fall

Chevy Chase might not have been ready for prime time when he joined the cast of the new sketch comedy show "Saturday Night Live" in 1976. But Chase, the breakout star of "SNL's" first season, sure took late night by storm. His impression of Gerald Ford became more memorable than the then-President himself. And his smarmy news reports behind the "Weekend Update" anchor desk would set the tone not only for every "Update" actor who followed but also for such contemporary fake newsmen as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. But with great fame, comes great ego. And Chase left "SNL" at the end of Season One.

The good news is that Chevy is finally coming back as a regular to series TV. See where you'll find him and some other veteran actors from shows gone by as we look at some of our favorite stars returning to TV this fall.

Chevy Chase: Now on "Community"
After leaving "SNL," Chevy went on to become one of the biggest comedy film stars of the '70s and '80s, with such legendary movies as the "National Lampoon's Vacation" series, "Fletch," "Caddyshack," and "Foul Play." But TV was not so kind to Chevy. His 1993 talk show lasted only five weeks (even Magic Johnson's show lasted eight). His recurring role as Nora's boyfriend on "Brothers and Sisters" gave us a glimmer of what Chevy in prime-time could feel like. And it felt good. Now comes the perfect vehicle for one of comedy's greats: "Community." The sitcom, set at Greendale Community College, stars Chase as a seven-times divorced, older, oddball student, and co-stars Joel McHale from "The Soup." It looks to be the big hit of the new season. Seems Chevy will get to tell a whole new generation of couch potatoes, "I'm Chevy Chase. And you're not."

Jenna Elfman: Then on "Dharma & Greg"
Jenna Elfman began her career as a dancer (watch closely next time you see Depeche Mode's video for "Halo"). Then she started acting, and it seemed like she was on her way to the big league when she was cast in the Molly Ringwald sitcom "Townies." That show didn't stick around for long, but it led to her role as Dharma Finklestein Montgomery on "Dharma & Greg." From there, she started making movies: "Gross Pointe Blank," "Keeping the Faith," and "Edtv." But when "D&G" went off the air, Jenna went into out-of-sight, out-of-mind land.

Jenna Elfman: Now on "Accidentally on Purpose"
Jenna Elfman's absence from TV after "Dharma & Greg" was short-lived. Four years later she was back in her own show, "Courting Alex," but it lasted only 13 episodes. After  guest spots on "Brothers & Sisters" and "My Name Is Earl," Jenna is back as a TV leading lady with "Accidentally on Purpose," a show about a thirty-something journalist who finds herself pregnant after a night with a twenty-something slacker. And though it sounds like the 2007 film "Knocked Up," producer Claudia Lonow says it's based on the real-life story and book by Time magazine movie critic Mary Pols.

Patricia Heaton: Then on "Everybody Loves Raymond"
Before landing the gig as Debra Barone on "Everybody Loves Raymond," Patricia Heaton did a season on a show called "Women of the House," with Delta Burke and Teri Garr; she also had a recurring role as Dr. Silverman on "thirtysomething." But it was her nine seasons as Debra that would garner her seven Emmy nominations and two wins and would propel her to TV leading lady status.

Patricia Heaton: Now on "The Middle"
After a brief break, Patricia teamed with Kelsey Grammer for the FOX sitcom "Back to You," playing co-anchors at a local TV news station. It lasted only one season. But she jumped right back on the sitcom horse and has a new show this fall called "The Middle." This time she's married to Neil Flynn (the janitor from "Scrubs") and works at a used car lot with Chris Kattan. Early reviews say it's a poor man's "Malcolm in the Middle," and everybody may not love this one.

Julianna Margulies: Then on "ER"
Nurse Carol Hathaway overcame quite a bit on "ER": an attempted suicide over her troubled relationship with the handsome Doug Ross; condescending doctors who didn't respect hard-working hospital support staff; and the pressures of a constantly churning roster of life-or-death emergencies. No wonder her personality could snap from fragile to harsh. But through it all, Julianna Marguilies played her with a vulnerability and grace that made her one of our favorite TV heroines of all time.

Julianna Margulies: Now on "The Good Wife"
Despite respectable small-screen showings on such series as "The Sopranos" and in miniseries like "The Mists of Avalon," Julianna just hasn't found that groove she lost when she left "ER" in 2000. So we're looking forward to "The Good Wife," a new drama in which Margulies plays the face of those political wives who stand by their adulterous husbands. All signals point to another strong performance from Julianna, whose character returns to her career as a defense attorney after her public humiliation at the hands of her cheating spouse.

Josh Charles: Then on "Sports Night"
We don't watch a lot of sports. We definitely don't watch any sports news shows. But we LOVED "Sports Night." The short-lived pre-"West Wing" Aaron Sorkin show had compelling story lines, strong characters, and a stellar cast of then-not-so-known actors (Robert Guillaume aside). And unlike a lot of shows where the supporting cast overtakes the leads (yes, Will and Grace, we're talking to you), the literal and figurative anchors of this series were Josh Charles and Peter Krause. The show was canceled after two seasons, and we mourned the loss of the weekly visit from our favorite TV duo.

Josh Charles: Now on "The Good Wife"
Peter Krause fans were lucky after "Sports Night" went away. Between "Six Feet Under" and "Dirty Sexy Money," there wasn't a big gap in Krause exposure. Not so much the case for fans of Josh Charles. Short of keeping "Dead Poets Society" on a continuous loop on the DVD player, Charles' fans had to be satisfied with glimpses of him in movies like "S.W.A.T." or TV appearances on "Six Degrees." And then, last year, our Josh jones was reignited when he made his weekly visits to Paul on "In Treatment." Now comes more glimmers of hope: he's been cast in new series starring such TV heavyweights as Julianna Margulies and Christine Baranski. Could Josh be back for good? Fingers crossed.

Laura Leighton: Then on "Melrose Place"
Laura Leighton was just another struggling actress/bartender before she landed the juicy role of Sydney Andrews on "Melrose Place." Her bohemian bad girl became one of the show's most popular characters despite (or maybe because of) the fact that she was a former call girl who blackmailed her sister's ex-husband into marrying her and then plotted with another of his exes to kill him. Now THAT'S good TV.

Laura Leighton: Now on "Melrose Place"
Laura worked a little after "Melrose Place" without another big hit before taking time off to raise her two children (with former "MP" co-star turned "Desperate" househusband Doug Savant). But now not only is Laura back... Sydney's back. Andrews will be the landlady to a whole new generation of cat-fighting, back-stabbing hotties in the newly resurrected "Melrose Place." Let the fur flying begin.

Ed O'Neill: Then on "Married... with Children"
Al Bundy on "Married... with Children" was a breakthrough role for Ed O'Neill. Before being cast as the accident-prone but lovable loser and shoe salesman, O'Neill made a few guest appearances on such shows as "Miami Vice" and "Spencer for Hire," but playing Al would make him a household name.

Ed O'Neill: Now on "Modern Family"
After leaving Al Bundy behind, O'Neill made a few movies, including "The Bone Collector" and "Lucky Numbers," and then returned to the small screen with "Big Apple," "Dragnet" (playing Lt. Joe Friday), and "John from Cincinnati." None of these shows would reach the success of "MWC," but we have a good feeling about his new project, "Modern Family." We think he might regain his sitcom throne playing the head of another dysfunctional clan.

Shelley Long: Then on "Cheers"
Shelley Long had been acting for more than five years when she was cast as uptight barmaid Diane Chambers on "Cheers," and then her career took off, with movie roles in "Night Shift," "The Money Pit," and "Outrageous Fortune." So with a budding film career and rumors that she didn't quite mesh with the rest of the "Cheers" cast, Shelley made the leap from the small screen to the big one.

Shelley Long: Now on "Modern Family"
There were a few flops after Shelley left the Boston bar room (anyone see "Frozen Assets?"), but then along came the role of Carol Brady in "The Brady Bunch Movie," which was followed by two sequels. She reprised Diane Chambers on a few episodes of "Frasier" and did some guest spots on "Joan of Arcadia" and "Boston Legal." But this season Shelley will make her return to series television as a recurring character, playing the meddling ex-wife of Ed O'Neill's Jay Pritchett on "Modern Family."

Kelsey Grammer: Then on "Cheers" and "Frasier"
There has, perhaps, never been a bigger fish out of water than Frasier Crane on "Cheers." When Diane Chambers' buttoned-up new boyfriend walked into the local Boston hangout, he stuck out like a sore thumb, sitting at the bar between the beer-drinking postal worker and accountant. But over the years, something interesting happened. The elitist became one of the guys — and one of TV's most popular characters. So when "Cheers" ended and spinoffs were discussed, "Frasier" seemed a likely enough character for his own show. But who'd have thought that Kelsey Grammer's solo show would outrun "Cheers" by two years for 11 seasons on prime time?

Kelsey Grammer: Now on "Hank"
Kelsey Grammer is caught in the quintessential TV Catch-22. As the man behind Frasier Crane, he has the distinct honor of being one of two actors who played the same character on TV for 20 years (the other is James Arness, who played Marshall Matt Dillon on "Gunsmoke" from 1955 to 1975). And yet, Grammer will always be remembered as Frasier Crane. You can't look at the guy without thinking of the Emmy Award-winning uptight radio psychiatrist from "Cheers" and "Frasier." He tried to reinvent himself as a TV anchor on "Back to You," but fans weren't buying it. We're betting that Kelsey's new turn on "Hank" as a Wall Street CEO who gets fired and returns to his small-town roots will strike the funny bone of today's recession-era TV viewers and will be a fall hit.

Lorenzo Lamas: Then on "Falcon Crest"
Lorenzo Lamas grew up among stars. His dad was famed actor/director Lorenzo Lamas (of the Billy Crystal "you look mahvelous" impression), his mom was actress Arlene Dahl, and his step-mom was swimming film star Ester Williams. He began acting at age five, including a small roles in "Grease," numerous appearances on "The Love Boat," and a short-lived series called "California Fever." So he was an industry vet when he was cast as Jane Wyman's playboy grandson on "Falcon Crest." Lamas was the only actor to appear on all 227 episodes of the series and received a Golden Globe nod and two Soap Opera Digest nominations, though he never won either.

Lorenzo Lamas: Now on "The Lamas Family"
After "Falcon Crest," Lorenzo took on the role of Reno Raines, a falsely accused cop in "Renegade." The series lasted five years and was syndicated in more than 100 countries. From there, he turned to daytime and joined the cast of "The Bold and the Beautiful" from 2004 to 2007. For the last few years, he has been acting in regional theater, small indie films, and commercials. But Lorenzo is set to make his TV comeback on the reality series "The Lamas Family." The E! show will center around "The Bachelor" winner Shayne Lamas, her siblings Dakota and A.J. and, of course, Lorenzo himself (a la Bruce Jenner on "Keeping up With the Kardashians), who doles out career advice to his daughter. A train wreck waiting to happen. We can't wait.

Written by Amy & Nancy Harrington
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