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2011 Fall TV Preview: Big Stars, Small Screen

Once upon a time, TV (aka the small screen) came with a stigma, a negative connotation for actors: If movie stars took a job on a series, it was a step down, a demotion. Things have gradually changed, and although there's no way to locate the precise turning point, movie actors and actresses are now gladly taking what was once seen as the plunge - and perhaps never more so than this season. Here is a list of actors we'll be seeing a lot of on fall TV but who you probably know better from their movie work.

Maria Bello

Series: Prime Suspect (Sept. 22 at 10/9c on NBC)

Notable TV Past: Guest roles on ER and Law and Order: SVU

Movie Highlight(s): The Cooler; A History of Violence

Our take: Bello is stepping into a role made famous by Helen Mirren on a British show more revered than the original Office. It might work out, it might not - but if Prime Suspect fails, it won't be because of Bello.

Ashton Kutcher

Series: Two and a Half Men (Sept. 19 at 9/8c on CBS)

Notable TV Past: Michael Kelso on That '70s Show; Punk'd

Movie Highlight(s): Just Married; What Happens in Vegas; No Strings Attached

Our take: Only those under the proverbial rock over the past several months haven't heard of the Two and a Half Men saga, a very abridged summary of which goes like this: Sheen out, Kutcher in. Well, the time has come for all to see whether Kutcher, who, of course, rose to stardom on the hit Fox series That '70s Show, can simply tap in the broad zingers set up by co-star Jon Cryer. Likely answer: yes, and with ease.

Zooey Deschanel

Series: New Girl (Sept. 20 at 9/8c on Fox)

Notable TV Past: Guest role on Weeds

Movie Highlight(s): (500) Days of Summer; Yes Man; The Happening

Our take: Deschanel, known on the big screen for her overall offbeat nature, was one of the last actresses anyone would've ever picked to headline a stereotypical sitcom on national TV. But wouldn't you know it, New Girl is one of the buzziest fall shows - and Zooey looks poised to become the second Deschanel with a hit Fox show (her sister Emily stars on Bones).

Christina Ricci

Series: Pan Am (Sept. 25 at 10/9c on ABC)

Notable TV Past: Guest roles on Ally McBeal and Saving Grace

Movie Highlight(s): Sleepy Hollow; Monster; Black Snake Moan

Our take: Ricci's movie career has been stalling a bit of late, and TV could provide just the boost it needs; she wouldn't be the first example of such a TV-aided resurgence. But ABC, looking to capitalize on the recent spate of successful retro-style series, needs a hit even more.

Kat Dennings

Series: 2 Broke Girls (Sept. 19 at 9:30/8:30c on CBS)

Notable TV Past: Raising Dad; guest role on ER

Movie Highlight(s): Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist; 40-Year-Old Virgin; Thor

Our take: Dennings' new show has a TON going for it: Michael Patrick King (key behind-the-scenes player on Sex and the City and its two movies) and Whitney Cummings (who has her own eponymous sitcom debuting on NBC) co-created the series, and, more importantly, it'll wind up sandwiched between How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men - probably TV's most coveted timeslot. Oh, and it's got Kat Dennings, too!

Patrick Wilson

Series: A Gifted Man (Sept. 23 at 8/7c on CBS)

Notable TV Past: Prominent role in TV miniseries Angels in America

Movie Highlight(s): Hard Candy; Watchmen; Little Children

Our take: The very gifted Wilson seems a great fit for A Gifted Man - which was created by th screenwriter of Erin Brokovich - and with a House-gone-supernatural vibe, the show could very well turn him into the next movie actor-turned-TV star.

Claire Danes

Series: Homeland (Oct. 2 at 10/9c on Showtime)

Notable TV Past: Angela Chase on My So-Called Life; HBO movie Temple Grandin

Movie Highlight(s): Romeo + Juliet; Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines; Stardust

Our take: It's taken Danes over a decade and a half to return to the medium that made her famous; it's only fitting that Homeland couldn't be more different than My So-Called Life: The former is on Showtime (bad words!) while the latter was on ABC; the former is a suspenseful drama while the latter was a teenage melodrama; the former sounds decent on paper while the latter already cemented itself as one of the best-ever series of its kind.

Jim Caviezel

Series: Person of Interest

Notable TV Past: AMC miniseries The Prisoner

Movie Highlight(s): The Passion of the Christ (Jesus!)

Our take: Caviezel has an extensive history as a character actor on the big screen, but he showed in last year's mind-boggling AMC miniseries The Prisoner that he could do TV just as well. Person of Interest will kick things up higher on the confusing-premise scale with its twistier-than-Minority Report plot from two of the best in the biz: J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan.

Laura Dern

Series: Enlightened (Oct. 10 at 9:30/8:30c on HBO)

Notable TV Past: HBO movie Recount

Movie Highlight(s): Jurassic Park movies; David Lynch movies

Our take: When someone has such a long and storied movie career, it makes sense that her first show seems, in typical HBO fashion, akin to a movie split into several episodes. Such is the case with Dern and Enlightened, about a self-destructive woman who goes to rehab and comes out a new person, spiritually, much to the annoyance of those close to her (including fellow movie vet Luke Wilson).

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