Casting is a Four Season Game Now

Flocks of parents and their kids come into LA for “Pilot Season.” They arrive in January and stay through April, the time of year when most TV networks cast and produce the “test pilot” or initial episode of a TV show. Most networks produce a pilot for a new show to run through test audiences before they commit to ordering more episodes. The fact that most new shows traditionally began airing in the fall meant that early spring was the right time to begin that process, and thus “pilot season,” a flurry of auditions and opportunity, was born.

But changes in technology, platforms, and viewing habits have led to changes in pilot season as well. Now many cable networks start new shows any time of year, and emerging platforms like Netflix and Amazon are adding to this season-blind trend. Pilots are made whenever a green light is given for a new show. Pilot season still exists, but it is much more diluted. Fox made news by declaring recently that they were abolishing pilot season altogether (though not pilots).

Getting cast in a pilot can be like catching the gold ring if the pilot is picked up, and this is why everyone wants to be in a pilot. Your odds of having a regular role in a series are good, though certainly not guaranteed if you are in the initial pilot episode. But in fact most pilots are NOT picked up, and never see a second episode. An actor we met in a project recently told me he had been cast in thirteen pilots over the years—not ONE of which had made it to series. And even if they do, sometimes characters are dropped, actors are replaced, and considerable changes can be made.

Liv and Maddie is a great example of what can happen to a show between the initial pilot and the final product. Initially called Bits and Pieces, and conceived as a blended family (think Brady Bunch) with four kids, it was structured in linked vignettes, and did not have the typical storyline arc of traditional shows. The creators thought it would make sense to a generation raised on YouTube. But the concept didn’t translate in testing. Audiences didn’t get it. However, they did like the chemistry between the actors, and they especially liked what Dove was doing with her character, Alanna, who was very much like Liv in some ways.

So the creative team went back to the drawing board and reworked the concept, adding a twins theme and bringing back a more familiar story structure. Sadly, adding a twin meant dropping one of the original actors. It was thought that five kids were just too many. Our joy in hearing that the show was picked up was dampened by knowing that one of the original cast members was not going to be moving forward with the project. While difficult emotionally, this is not uncommon, and serves as a reminder of how frequently decisions are made that have nothing to do with a young actor’s talent—but rather they are made for structural reasons. They feel personal, but in fact are not.

Episodic Season, the flip side in many ways to Pilot Season, is traditionally August through November, and its edges are similarly dissolving. This is the season when most co-stars, guest-stars, and recurring characters are cast for the pilots that made it through testing, and for ongoing shows.

If you think about it, an actor who is looking to get started in the business—whether a child actor or not—is much more likely to be cast during episodic season. Why? It is incredibly unlikely that a network would risk banking on a newcomer with few to no credits for a major role. It’s just too risky. Episodics are an opportunity to get that experience, begin racking up guest star and recurring roles, and lay the track for that coveted larger role down the line. They can get you a page on IMDB. This is actually what happened for Dove.

Episodics are also a great way for your kid to get the experience they need to be up to the task of carrying a larger role later. If you are considering coming to LA for just a season to give your child a shot at getting cast in a TV show, I would consider aiming for fall instead of spring.

Of course this entire conversation about seasons only applies to television. Film is seasonless. And as time goes by, television is going that way too. Just about the only two months that little is happening in Los Angeles casting offices are July and December, when too many decision makers are on vacation!

Do families still flock to Los Angeles during what has been traditionally Pilot Season? Of course. But their numbers are fewer each year, reflecting the more spread-out casting opportunities.

My book, The Hollywood Parents Guide, available on Amazon contains everything I wish I’d known when Dove and I started this journey, and will save you untold amounts of time, money, and stress. Full of information you MUST know, it also features stories from parents of other kids who’ve made it!

Or book an hour consulting with me to come up with an individualized plan that takes your own unique needs into account. For about the cost of an hour with a professional acting coach, you can get your questions answered and a road map to help you move forward toward your dream.

Invest a little in your kid’s future today.

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