TV Upfronts: Everything You Need to Know

APRIL 29, 2019
Person holding a remote in front of a wall of TV screens.

Wondering if that awesome pilot you worked on got picked up? Crossing your fingers your favorite show gets renewed? Many networks make programming decisions ahead of May's TV upfront presentations. As pilot season wraps up, we explore the next step in the TV cycle and how upfronts relate to your work as a Background Actor.

What are upfronts?

TV upfronts are programming presentations networks give to entice advertisers to buy ad space on their channels. Networks often give advertisers a better rate if they buy bulk space "up front" instead of waiting to buy throughout the season. Upfronts are traditionally held in New York in May and all the major networks, like ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, and The CW hold presentations, usually showcasing new shows and popular talent.

Upfronts are increasingly important to networks in a time when viewership is declining. According to the Los Angeles Times, in 2018 prime-time viewership in the advertiser coveted 18-49-year-old demographic was down 9% from 2017. Despite those numbers, Media Dynamics estimates that advertiser spending actually rose by 5.2%, generating $20.8 billion in commitments for networks and cable channels.

As upfronts approach, networks will look at their slate of current shows and assess their pilots to determine their programming for the next year. There were over 60 pilots ordered this season, but Variety says only an average of six get picked up by each network per year. Sometimes the fate of your favorite show can come down to the strength of these incoming pilots.

Announcements on show renewals, cancelations, and pilot pick-ups often happen in the weeks leading up to upfronts. We already know some longstanding shows that are ending this year, like The Big Bang Theory, Elementary, and Jane the Virgin. If your favorite show is canceled, there's still hope! While it's rare for series to see life after cancellation, some shows do get picked up by another network or streaming service, like FOX picking up Last Man Standing and Netflix saving Lucifer.

Do streaming services participate in upfronts?

Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon and subscription based cable channels like HBO and Showtime don't participate in upfronts because they don't air ads during their programming. Some of these services may order scripts straight to series or may shoot pilots throughout the year and not in the traditional network pilot season. You can keep an eye on our Jobs page for the new streaming and premium cable shows we're casting.

What do upfronts mean to Background Actors?

So what do all these numbers mean to you? Aside from helping you to learn more about the industry and how the TV business is evolving, upfronts can help you gauge possible work opportunities for the upcoming season. Knowing what new shows are filming and what they're about gives you extra time to get your wardrobe and looks together. Trailers for new shows are often shown during upfronts, so if you want to work as a Stand-In or double, this is a great opportunity to see if there are any actors you resemble closely enough to Stand-In or double for.

Want to learn more about these new shows? Keep an eye on our Articles section for tips on how to get cast in 2019's new shows. Until then, brush up on our casting platform and how to read a job post so you're prepared to get booked by a Casting Director.

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By Meghan Dubitsky

Article Category:

Industry Essentials