What is a Pilot Season?

Most aspiring actors will tell you there is a lot to learn about moving to Los Angeles and taking a serious crack at show business.  For many, there is not only relocating to this city, finding a job to support them while they audition, but also managing an often ongoing self-doubt.  

There is also the nuts and bolts of the business.  How to find an agent.  How to make a connection with a casting agent.  What seminars and classes to take?  There is also the mystery behind the pilot season, what it is, when it is, and how that affects them as an aspiring actor.  

Here is an expanded typical timeline for a pilot season and how it all unfolds.  

Summer Through Fall:  Executives Pick Pitches & Scripts

During the summer, network and studio executives hear more than 500 pitches for potential new pilots.  Executives will then determine which ones they like and the network can order for the fall.  They then order pilot scripts to be written for each of those picked pitches.  Typically, each network orders around 70 scripts, needing completion before the  holiday season.  During the shutdown period in December, execs take the scripts home to read.

Pilot Season 

January: Order Pilots

After reading the scripts, executives return after the holiday and talk amongst themselves as to what appeals to them.  It is similar to returning from vacation and talking about the exciting places you visited.

Execs discuss creative issues, staffing,  how projects fit into the programming, and what projects they can afford. These talks get narrowed until between 20 – 30 scripts per network are chosen for pilot orders.  

February through April:  Pilots are Cast & Shot

This is the season that affects aspiring actors the most.  Actors are hired in February and March (along with casting directors and directors) and the pilot is typically shot some time in March or April.  

May:  Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down

This is when everybody learns if they have a job or not. After the pilot is edited and the final cut is delivered to the networks, the waiting begins.  Craig Thomas, a showrunner for How I Met Your Mother, likened it to being in high school and savoring any gossip one can get.

For those that have learned the network has green lighted their pilot for fall, it is like winning the lottery.  For those that haven’t been so lucky,  it is still an invaluable learning and career experience.  

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