One of the more engaging pilots I watched back in the spring was for NBC's "Parenthood," primarily for the performance by Maura Tierney (kinda sorta playing the role Dianne Wiest did in the original "Parenthood" movie). Then, unfortunately, Tierney was diagnosed with breast cancer, and NBC (understandably not wanting to lose the best part of the show) pushed "Parenthood" back to midseason. Even more recently, though, Tierney dropped out altogether to focus on her health. That shouldn't be surprising, and doesn't even necessarily mean bad news. Cancer treatment, even successful cancer treatment, is an all-consuming thing. Starring in a new TV drama, even as part of an ensemble, is an all-consuming thing. One of those had to give, and Tierney chose the right one.
That, however, leads to the question of who should replace her, and one report I've seen today (the picture should give you a hint) doesn't make me very optimistic.
Jace at Televisionary pointed me to this story about the producers approaching Helen Hunt to fill Tierney's shoes.
And if they close that deal, my interest in "Parenthood" drops, precipitously.
I know Hunt has that Oscar, and four Emmys, but I've never been a fan. She always comes across as brittle and off-putting to me, which I guess would help her fit in on a show that would have Monica Potter playing her sister-in-law, but that's a combination I'd find about as fun as getting bamboo shoved under my fingernails. It's gotten to the point where I hesitate to watch something Hunt's in, even if the rest of it is right in my wheelhouse, like HBO's adaptation of one of my favorite books, "Empire Falls." (Not surprisingly, I found her to be by far the weakest link in that cast.)
My buddy Phil was in agreement with me on this, but then he asked the tricky question: if not Hunt, then who?
Tierney, particularly if you just saw her sensational guest stint on "Rescue Me," is not easy to replace. You need to find a woman in her early-mid '40s who is likable, attractive and equally good at comedy and drama - and someone who'd be willing to be part of the ensemble of an NBC drama.
We tossed around some names - Carla Gugino, Moira Kelly, Paula Marshall (who'd almost certainly be getting a call if "Gary Unmarried" hadn't been renewed) - but eventually I threw up my hands.
What we need in these sorts of situations is the entertainment equivalent of Similarity Scores. When baseball fans are debating the merits of a particular player, they can always look up the players to whom they're most statistically comparable. So if someone wants to decide whether, say, Roberto Alomar is Hall of Fame-worthy, they can look at his Similarity Scores and see that his two most comparable players are Barry Larkin (maybe going to the Hall one day, but a long time from now) and Derek Jeter (going in on the first ballot).
Now, it's a lot easier to do that for ballplayers than for actors, because you don't quantify performances statistically. But the internet is full of smart, obsessed people, and I have to think that someone somewhere can come up with a formula that will tell us who should be on speed-dial if Maura Tierney drops out of a project, or who to get if Brad Pitt isn't available. (Hint: the answer is not Brad Rowe.) Surely, if we had a good statistical model, Hunt would not be in this discussion.
Any suggestions on how we do this? And names for specific actor stats? Once upon a time, Fienberg (in a blog post since lost to history) suggested VORG, or Value Over Replacement Guest, to connote how much happier he was to see some actors pop up on shows versus others.