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Tanya Vital's Blog

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

What we think we know 'Pre- Pilot Season' Trip

We’ve all heard the stories and reports from the likes of David Harewood et al, talking about L.A and that there are more opportunities in acting for ethnics there than there are here in the UK, so I’m going to L.A in a few weeks to finally see what the whole who-ha is about the place and would it be actually viable for me, a fairly lowly UK Actor to even consider getting work out there in the future or is it a closed set like it is here.

The ins and outs of my trip I will blog about separately, but here I wanted to consider Pilot Season. What it is and how it works.

What is it
After hearing the words “Pilot Season in America” first spoken to me by another Actor friend in 2004 I was left thinking ‘what the hell is that?’ She briefly explained that is was a period in the year when Production Companies and Studios in Hollywood make all their new TV shows and Actors try and get work on the new pilots, in the hopes that it becomes the new ‘Friends’. Fine – Ok, but don’t they do that all year round?? There were tons of questions I needed answering so I began to research this strange TV show-making “season”.

A pilot is a one-off offering/ example/ prototype of what the new TV show will look like and feel like IF it is commissioned into a full series. It is fully cast, designed, made-up, fully constructed set, full costume – everything. Imagine the 1st ever episode of ‘Friends’, a complete and whole production within one tiny capsule of a 30 min/ 1 hour episode. This is the pilot and they all have a set number of ‘regular’ cast members so if this first episode (pilot) is commissioned as a full series and you’re part of the cast – you could potentially be the next Jennifer Aniston, acting AND financially stable for the rest of your life.

Pilot Season is a period between January and the end of April where hundreds of new TV pilots are produced. Actors from all over the world migrate to Hollywood in the hope that they will be cast in the next big thing. Once the pilots are produced and the Networks pick their favourites, some are commissioned to go through on to the TV schedule and the rest are sent to the rubbish pile.  According to T. Martinez (An Agent Tells All) in 2004, 128 pilots were produced at a cost of over 100 million dollars – imagine what that is today? However even if you are cast in a pilot, there are no guarantees it will ever be commissioned as a series.

Because of this migratory period and the influx of new work, this is an extremely busy time in LA for both Agents and Actors and obviously the competition is serious.

I have read elsewhere and in An Agent Tells All, that more and more pilots are being made outside of Pilot Season and some Actors are even going out to LA around October, to be there just before the mad rush begins. This mostly being down to the fact that there are many more TV Networks now with SKY and cable channels.

Again the same in the US as it is over here, there is a ‘bums on seats’ approach. Meaning that known names will always be given first refusal to the new shows because Production Companies want those guaranteed viewers and guaranteed advertisement deals, making it more difficult for the up and coming Actor to catch a break and reality celebrities are as popular there, as they are here in the UK.

This is where it differs to the UK the most – the casting process.

So the longer shows are usually done first to allow time for post production and the shorter shows done after and all are finished by the beginning of May when they are then presented to the big wigs at the Networks. (Networks being HBO, Bravo, F/X etc).

The basic premise is that nobody knows what they want, they will have a go and see what works and what doesn’t, meaning things can be cut at any time, characters can change and the plot can thicken. There are a number of call backs, where you may be reading with different characters every time to test the dynamics of the cast. After call backs you do a ‘test’. A test is another audition, but in a big room full of Executives. Then once you’ve tested for the Studio (DreamWorks, Universal etc), you have to test again for the Network (remember HBO, Bravo, F/X). So right up until the test, you can be cut AND there are a bunch of legalities like your ‘test deal’. If this is not negotiated before the test date, you will lose your test place.

(Your test deal is a contract that agrees things you will receive should the pilot be turned into a series over a number of years, including pay, dressing room size, relocation monies and more).

You are also not allowed to test for more than one pilot, because they want exclusivity should the pilot be commissioned.


The second week of May is when the Networks announce their new shows and we find out what has been commissioned and made it onto the TV schedule. HOWEVER, even at this late stage, the test deal agreement (that you signed) gives the Network until June to re-cast if necessary, so even if your pilot is commissioned – you may not be.

Sounds mad right? Apparently it can just be the luck of the draw with Pilot Season, but the aim should be to build up contacts and CV before you even attempt to get involved in the madness. This includes having an LA Agent or a UK Agent with lots of LA contacts. It must be nigh-on impossible to even be able to book a meeting during Pilot Season because everybody is concentrating on the clients they already have, so don’t expect to go over there and get anywhere first time, they don’t give a crap whether you were the most loved character in Eastenders for 5 years – comprende?

They do cast for things outside of Pilot Season so it’s not the end of the world if this year it doesn’t work out. Apparently George Clooney was Pilot Season King until he was picked up on ER – now look at him go.

A great book and the main source of all my US acting world knowledge is Tony Martinez (An Agent Tells All). This book breaks everything down for you whether you an Actor in the US or an Actor hoping to make it big from the UK – BUY IT – READ IT – LEARN IT and do as much research as you can about the US before you even consider what it would be like to work there.

I was recently given another link about Pilot Season: guys-are-not-going-to-want-to-fk-her



  1. Should you ever stop working as an Actor, then PLEASE become a Blogger.
    Your writing is clear, concise and engaging.
    Hope to see you in a series soon....

  2. A great post, Tanya, as we have come to expect- a no nonsense view of the crazy world of acting. I really hope that someone has the sense to cast you and pick up the option on a pilot. I look forward to reading more soon. D

  3. Great article and very useful tips, Tanya! Thank you for sharing that! As a minority actress, I'm definitely considering looking for work overseas - I've recently wrote about the stereotypes in UK casting in my article for A Younger Theatre, it's quite frustrating over here.




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