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US TV Swells with Aussie Talent

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By Peter Mitchell in Los Angeles April 18, 2008 06:36am

FOXY ladies Kath & Kim have sparked a stampede for Australian talent and TV shows in Hollywood.

Following NBC's green light for an American version of Kath & Kim and the success the network has had with an American format of British comedian Ricky Gervais's The Office, rival US TV networks are scanning Australia looking for potential sitcoms and dramas to turn into American shows.

It could be a golden time for Australian TV production companies hoping to sell shows to cashed up US networks.

Rupert Murdoch's Fox TV network appears to be the first to follow NBC Down Under.

Fox is working on an Americanised version of the short-lived 2000 Marg Downey and Paul Gleeson-starring Australian sitcom, Sit Down, Shut Up.

It is also a golden time for Australian actors on US TV.

Hollywood's TV pilot season is in full swing and at least nine Australian actors are set to star in new US TV series.

Toni Collette is teaming up with Steven Spielberg in what is being heralded as the great new comedy series of 2008, The United States of Tara, and fellow Aussie Simon Baker has been cast as the lead in the TV drama The Mentalist.

What has Hollywood talent managers and agents buzzing about the Australian invasion of actors is the unusual number of "unknowns" who managed to be cast in new series without a substantial Australian acting resume.

Most of the actors are graduates of TV soaps Home and Away, Neighbours, All Saints, Sea Patrol and Blue Heelers.

Sea Patrol's David Lyons is an exception, bypassing the pilots and following in the footsteps of George Clooney.

Lyons has landed a role as a cantankerous doctor on the long-running medical drama ER.

"It reflects the growing trend where Aussie actors no longer wait until they've established a name for themselves in Australia before coming out here for pilot season, but rather they are confident enough to give it a bash in the infancy of their careers," Perth-born Rob Marsala, a manager at Hollywood talent agency 1 Management, said.

NBC is banking on Kath & Kim to be a winner, with US actresses Molly Shannon and Selma Blair in the roles made famous in Australia by Jane Turner and Gina Riley.

Kath & Kim will be the centrepiece of NBC's Tuesday night lineup when it debuts in America's autumn.

One Australian show that will be aired in the US this year without being tampered with is Summer Heights High.

The show, by Chris Lilley, will air on America's premium cable TV channel HBO in its original form mid-year.

Some pilots never make it to air, but Collette's The United States of Tara appears to be a sure bet with Spielberg creating and producing the series and Diablo Cody, the winner of this year's original screenplay Oscar for the comedy Juno, penning the script.

Spielberg has also signed Australian director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) to direct the pilot.

Former All Saints actress Samantha Noble has landed a role on one of 2008's most anticipated new shows, the horror-adventure series Harper's Island.

Home and Away graduate Chris Egan is also one of the big winners of the TV pilot casting sessions, picking up a plum role on the political drama Kings opposite British actor Ian McShane.

Fox and Lost creator JJ Abrams have cast two Australians, Young Lions' Anna Torv and another Home and Away alumni, John Noble, to star in the big budget two-hour pilot for the sci-fi TV series Fringe.

Fox has poured a reported $US10 million ($10.8 million) into the pilot.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon has also teamed up with Fox on another new sci-fi series, Dollhouse, with former Neighbours actress Dichen Lachman playing a beautiful drone.

It's not just Kath & Kim and Sit Down, Shut Up that is being repackaged for the US market.

There are at least two other successful British shows being turned into American series this year and Aussies have been cast in both.

Josh Lawson, a 26-year-old Queenslander and veteran of Sea Patrol, Home and Away, Blue Heelers and Neighbours, will star in another Fox pilot, Spaced, based on the British sitcom of the same name.

Hong Kong-born, Sydney-raised Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen, whose resume includes roles on Headland, Pizza and Home and Away, is on the US remake of the British series Life on Mars.

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Stephanie is going to be in Life on Mars? That's fab. I always loved Stephanie and thought she was criminally underused on H&A.

Who did John Noble and Josh Lawson play? :unsure:

John Noble was Dr. Helpmann, who sexually harassed and blackmailed Rachel. Josh was Felix, Sarah's boyfriend.

Stephanie is apparently playing Maya, Sam's girlfriend in the 21st century, so I don't think we'll see her beyond the first episode, unless they do the episode where Sam meets her mother.

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Charlotte - criminally underused?

I thought in the 12 months on the show she got more than her fair share of large storylines.

Yes, but I felt that she was around for such a short space of time that they could have done a lot more with her. And to be honest the storylines they gave her weren't that great IMO, with the exception of the miscarriage/Jude fandango.

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