Fall season taking on foreign air

It's crunch time for TV studios' business affairs departments, but this year it seems as if they're spending as much time preparing work visas for the shows' stars as they do closing deals for new series.

A trend that emerged during the pilot-casting season comes into focus this week when the networks pick up their new series: Foreign actors are playing the leads on a staggering number of new dramas next season.

There have been a few here and there -- Brit Hugh Laurie of House and Australian Anthony LaPaglia of Without a Trace, both Emmy winners for their roles on the shows -- but never quite like this. It's across the board on every network, and it's massive.

Almost all new drama series with a single lead that will premiere next season -- a total of eight shows -- have a foreign actor playing the role of an American. Even two iconic Hollywood characters, Jamie Sommers of The Bionic Woman and Sarah Connor of the Terminator franchise, will be played by British actresses Michelle Ryan and Lena Headey, respectively.

NBC picked up five one-hour series for next season, the ensemble dramedy Lipstick Jungle, the action comedy Chuck and a trio of single-lead dramas, Bionic Woman, Journeyman and Life, all three of which are toplined by British actors: Ryan, Rome star Kevin McKidd and Band of Brothers star Damian Lewis, respectively.

NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly, who compared Lewis to Laurie at the network's press conference Monday, had been joking that NBC should be nominated for BAFTAs, the British TV awards.

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