Broadway Stars Debuting New TV Pilots

Pilot Season for the Major Broadcast Networks

Every year, the major television networks such as CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and the CW go through a specific course of development to determine which new shows to add to their dockets. Referred to as Pilot Season, this is an intensive process that involves the submissions of thousands of elevator pitches, followed by calls for scripts, after which some are selected, and then actors flock from all over the country and world to audition for the parts. Due to the simultaneity of the process across networks, actors generally need to choose one show to ride out, which can be a gamble as the majority of shows do not get picked up, and therefore they would be sacrificing other opportunities for this one shot. However, the payoff can be great as television can be a great career boost for actors, including those who are already big stars in the theatre. Presently, though some shows are just beginning to premiere this season, networks are already entering the early stages of next year’s process, and some exciting Broadway names are headlining.

Already Picked Up: Sutton Foster Stars in “Younger” on TV Land

younger sutton fosterA new television show by the maker of Sex and the City, Darren Star, will premiere on TV Land on March 31, 2015. The show, Younger, stars Sutton Foster who came to fame through her Broadway performances in such musicals as Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Drowsy Chaperone, Anything Goes, and most recently, Violet. Her first leading role on television took place in 2012, when she starred in the ABC Family series Bunheads about a former Las Vegas showgirl turned small town ballet dance teacher. That show only lasted for one season of 18 episodes. Fortunately, Foster is getting another go at a TV leading gig this spring on TV Land. Younger, which also stars Hilary Duff (Lizzie McGuire), Debi Mazar (Entourage, Living with Fran), and Miriam Shor (Hedwig and the Angry Inch). The show is a single-camera, 30 minutes series about a 40 year-old mother having difficulty finding a job, so she gets a makeover and pretends she is in her 20s.

Idina Menzel in “Happy Time” and Megan Hilty in Untitled Judah Miller Projectidina menzel

Looking forward toward the upcoming pilot season, Ellen DeGeneres is producing a new series called Happy Time which stars Idina Menzel (Rent, Wicked, If/Then, Frozen). This half hour comedy series is written by Randi Barnes (Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return), and produced by DeGeneres’ company A Very Good Production. The show will most likely be shopped around this upcoming summer. Details about the show are not widely disclosed, but Happy Time revolves around a woman who is ready megan hiltyto stop pretending she is happy all of the time. Furthermore, Megan Hilty, who is best known for her starring role on the TV show Smash, and also for her Broadway performances in 9 to 5 and Wicked, is cast in an upcoming pilot to be written and produced by Judah Miller (American Dad, King of the Hill, The Tracy Morgan Show). In this presently untitled single-camera comedy, Hilty plays a Tony Award winning Broadway star who is still adjusting to her new role as a suburban mom. Along with her husband, an intellectual, she is thrust into a new world of competitive sports, as their son is a natural born athlete.

“Violet” Opens at the American Airlines Theatre

Sutton Foster has long been considered to have the potential to become one of the great musical theatre performers of our time.  Her big break occurred in 2002, when she was cast as the last minute replacement star of Thoroughly Modern Millie.  When the show transferred to Broadway, the consistently laudatory reviews and 2002 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical proved that she had begun to pave her way to theatrical stardom.  Her most recent Broadway star turn was in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s 2011 revival of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, where Sutton played Reno Sweeney and took home her second Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.  Despite this success, however, Sutton had yet not proven her invincibility as a surefire star – until now, with the recently opened Roundabout Theatre Company production of Violet.


Violet CD ImageViolet
is the story of a young disfigured woman who travels from North Carolina to Oklahoma in search of healing treatment.  Based on the short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts, it has music by Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Caroline or Change) and libretto by Brian Crawley (A Little Princess).  Violet first premiered Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in 1997, receiving seven Drama Desk nominations and winning the Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical.  On July 17, 2013, the Encores! Off-Center Series at New York City Center mounted a one-night production of Violet, this time starring Sutton Foster in the title role.  The creative team at Roundabout must have been impressed by her performance, for they decided to bring the show to one of their Broadway houses, the American Airlines Theatre, for a run this spring to summer 2014.  The production is directed by Leigh Silverman (Chinglish, Well) and choreographed by Jeffrey Page (Fela!).

When the musical opened on April 20, 2014, it received unanimously positive reviews.  Charles Isherwood at The New York Times remarked that this was a “career-redefining performance.”  Whereas Sutton has often appeared in light-hearted musicals such as Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Anything Goes, here she takes a darker turn and embraces issues of self-delusion and in security.

sutton-foster-in-violet

sutton-foster-in-violet

Similarly, Time Out New York stated that this was the “darkest and richest” part that Sutton has ever played, congratulating her on her seamless ability to portray both the optimistic and bitterly anguished elements of her character.  NBC New York also observed that this performance of Sutton’s is “a star being reborn.”  Despite the low-key sets and less than elaborate spectacles involved with the production, critics far and wide praised the ambition and the seriousness of the storyline.

The musical is slated to run until August 10, 2014.  Although this is the first time the show has appeared on Broadway, it is still considered a “revival” for the purposes of Tony Award consideration.  This is not the only show this season to premiere on Broadway after having had an Off-Broadway production years ago; Hedwig and the Angry Inch is similarly considered a “revival” though this is the first time it has been on Broadway.

Sutton Foster and Jesse Tyler Ferguson To Announce Tony Nominees

Jesse Tyler Ferguson

Jesse Tyler Ferguson

The 2013 Tony Award nominations are set to be announced on April 30 at 8:30am. Two famous faces, known both on Broadway and on television, will make the announcements from the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center, located at Lincoln Center. The well-known performers in question are Tony winners Sutton Foster (Anything Goes, TV’s Bunheads) and Jesse Tyler Ferguson (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee).

Other Broadway luminaries will be there along with Sutton Foster and Jesse Tyler Ferguson when the Tony Award nominees are announced. Noted Broadway costume designer and American Theatre Wing chairman William Ivey Long, American Theatre Wing executive director Heather Hitchens, Broadway League chairman Nick Scandalios, and Broadway League executive director Charlotte St. Martin will all be in attendance.

Once the Tony nominations are announced, it will be a little more than a month until the main event, the Tony Awards ceremony, is held on June 9. The Tonys will be broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall on the CBS network. Find more information at www.tonyawards.com.