Pilot Season – Everything You Need To Know! 

19th December 2022

Pilot Season – Everything You Need To Know! 
Georgia Carter

Georgia Carter

We all know the importance of pilots, so let’s give you the 101 to nail those auditions. When does pilot season take place and what do you need to do to prepare ahead of one of the busiest times of the year. This time of year can be extremely busy for any actor, agent, producer, network and casting director. Let us take you through the process and you will then be a pro. 

Pilots – What Are They & When Are They Shot? 

Pilots – one episode – of an upcoming TV series will be shot & tested and the large networks – NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox and CW – will then decide whether to green light it or in most cases unfortunately they scrap it all together. The network will ask the writers, producers and studio to  cast and produce a snapshot of the series, a pilot. Once the network execs are happy with the way it has been reviewed, then they will order the whole series to be shot. 

Pilot season would generally start at the end of January and runs through April or May each year, so there is bound to be preparation made by production companies in the months running up to January. However it must be said that with all the streaming giants, such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Apple, they can choose when to shoot a pilot for any given series. And this can be at any time during the year. There may be pilots therefore all year round, but the months between January and May are always going to be the most busy for networks. In short, you need to bring your A-Game every day of the year, don’t rely on your laurels and get complacent the other months of the year.  

As actors, you will find you get more auditions in this time however and your agent should be putting you forward for these television pilots and make sure you keep on top of them about it. These premium casting months are golden and you don’t want to miss out. That said, you can still get an audition during pilot season for that regular role on a major television show without one, but it will be considerably easier having an agent in your corner during these months. We also have an article about how to get an agent, so please do read this if you need some further advice regarding this process. 

Where Does Pilot Season Take Place?

Pilot season will generally take place in Los Angeles or in New York, so if you live in either one of these cities, your agent will be talking to you about it now and in the coming month. 

Schedule for Pilot Season

  • Summer through Fall – Networks execs will listen to pitches & decide which ones they’d like to commission what scripts should be written. 
  • January – Scripts are rediscussed and narrowed down to about 20 choices per network and pilots are ordered. 
  • February and March – Production teams are put together, directors, casting directors and then ultimately actors are hired. 
  • March and April – Shooting will finally start 
  • May – Network execs start seriously watching the newly shot pilots and decisions are made on which ones to greenlight. 

So as you can see, this is quite a laborious undertaking for networks and for a new series to be greenlit does take time. You need to have patience but also have your finger on the pulse – or your agent certainly does – and be ready to take the leap of faith for all of these productions. If you are lucky, you may get cast in a long running series, just like Grey’s Anatomy, Friends or Brothers and Sisters. The rest will be history!

I would remind you that with such fierce competition, as a new actor, you really do need an agent on your side and some decent credits behind you, as most casting directors will be very pushed for time. They may not be willing to take on anybody new unless they really are the next greatest star. But don’t let that deter you and maybe you now need to scale up your marketing, promotional skills to put yourself out there so you get noticed. Is your showreel up-to-date and does it showcase your best acting work, have you got current headshots that look like you or maybe refresh your website? 

These questions you need to be asking yourself throughout the year, but during pilot season, they are even more vital to you securing that role. 

I would suggest keeping up-to-date with all the larger networks to see when they will be offering castings and your agent of course will be keeping themselves busy working on your behalf but it is always good to know what is going on yourself. A website devoted to information, news, and spoilers of television programs, TVLine presents the annual round-up of who’s planning what, so check them out too. 

Some Lingo You Should Know

  • Cast Contingent – A pilot will not start shooting until there is a notable cast member in the lead role. 
  • Drama/Comedy Presentation – There will be a shorter representation ordered by the network as there may not be enough time to order a full pilot. 
  • Second Position – In brief, it means that a pilot role is in second position/priority if their show gets renewed and stars from low-rated series start booking pilots. 
  • Upfronts – The networks unveil their projects for the new season and if your show doesn’t make the cut here, then all I would say is better luck next year.

Closing Thoughts

Remember that the tv industry is ever changing and you have to just go with the flow, and ensure you are ready for any opportunity, even if it is out of pilot season. Acting demands this of you, so the better prepared you are every day, pilot season will be much easier to encounter. Don’t put too much focus on these months, since as you can see the big streamers can send out castings for pilots at any time, so be sure to have fun during your acting career. It is a marathon, not a sprint and the earlier you accept that, the more invested you will be in your career and enjoy the auditions you get sent to. 

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