What You Need to Know About Pilot Season 2020

FEBRUARY 17, 2020
Which new shows will be picked up fo pilot season 2020?
Behind the scenes of Bob Hearts Abishola, a pilot from 2019 (CBS)

Pilot season is an exciting time in the entertainment industry as the broadcast networks produce dozens of pilots in preparation for May Upfronts. For Background Actors, that means there are plenty of opportunities to get cast in the coming months. Here’s what you need to know about pilot season 2020 and how to get on set.

When is pilot season?

Pilot season is between January and April, which is still generally true for the broadcast networks. While streaming services shoot pilots year-round and have a higher tendency to hand out straight to series orders, broadcast channels tend to film the bulk of their pilots in March. In an effort to compete with streamers, networks like ABC and FOX are changing their pilot strategy to include off-cycle orders and straight to series deals to lock down big name stars.

“Broadcast networks traditionally close [to pilots] and we’re going to stay open all year round,” ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke told Deadline. “We’re calling it a second cycle of development. Shows need time; we’re going to take a couple and take time and do a second cycle.”

Terms to know for pilot season 2020

Did you know there are different kinds of pilots? You’re probably familiar with a general pilot where a network takes a script it likes, finds a cast, then shoots the episode. These are some other pilots a network might order:

Pilot presentation

Pilots are expensive to film, so if a network likes or sees promise in a script, but doesn’t want to commit to a full episode shoot, they’ll order a 7-10 minute pilot presentation. Pilot presentations are rare, with only one ordered to date for pilot season 2020. Sometimes when a network likes an idea or the talent behind a show, but feels the script isn’t ready, they may elect to hold it until the next cycle instead of ordering a presentation or a pilot. This allows the creative team to retool the story without the network spending money on something they’re not confident in.

Backdoor pilot

A backdoor pilot, sometimes called a planted spin-off, is an episode of a current TV series that serves as a set up for a possible new show. Both grown-ish and mixed-ish were backdoor pilots on black-ish. In the case of mixed-ish, the filmed episode never aired on black-ish and was instead reworked as the first episode of the series. In most cases though, backdoor pilots air as episodes of the original series.

Put pilot

Put pilots are pilots that come with a significant monetary penalty if the pilot never makes it to air. Networks may order these when they like a pilot script and want to lock down the talent without committing to a straight to series order. Put pilots tend to be uncommon with networks only handing out a handful of commitments per year.

Cast contingent pilot

Scripts that are picked up as cast contingent mean that unless the production finds suitable actors, the pilot won’t film. This normally happens when the network likes a concept, but doesn’t think it can cultivate an audience without the right talent. Networks are usually looking for known actors or big names for cast contingent projects.

How to get cast during pilot season

Ready to get on set as a Background Actor, Stand-In, or double on some exciting new shows? If you’re not registered with Central Casting, your first step is to complete the Talent Onboarding process. You can find more information on how to onboard on the Sign Up page.

If you’re already registered, make sure your profile and photos are up to date. Your casting photo is one of the main tools Casting Directors use when casting their shows, so keeping your photo updated lets them know your look is current and you’re ready to work.

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By Meghan Dubitsky

Article Category:

Industry Essentials