Pilot Season Lingo Guide (Including the 'Scary' Second Position), Plus a List of Picked-Up Pilots

Pilot season is here, meaning the networks are taking stock of their needs for 2012-13 and getting the ball rolling toward filling any gaps.
With development season about to get really interesting — meaning it’s time to start booking living, breathing actors for these wannabe series! — we thought it might help to define some of the lingo that gets tossed around.

Here are the basic terms you should know as pilot season forges on.

Also: Review Our Ongoing List of This Season’s Pilots for ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox and NBC

PILOT | You really want get basic, eh? When a network orders (or “picks up”) a pilot, they’re asking its writers/producers/studio to cast and produce a very close facsimile of what their series’ first episode will look like. Each pilot is reviewed by network brass, and then typically put into testing before a decision is made on whether it will land on the schedule (for fall or midseason).

PLANTED SPIN-OFF | Also called a “backdoor” pilot, this is an episode of an existing series that sets up a prospective offshoot. Last year, Bones introduced a pal of Booth’s who went on to become The Finder. And if The Office this spring conspicuously centers an episode on the Schrute beet farm’s bed and breakfast, that’d be a planted pilot for the Dwight-centric spin-off. Free History Lesson: That Brady Bunch episode with new neighbor Ken Berry adopting three orphans? That was a planted pilot, for a spin-off to be called Kelly’s Kids that never took off. Same with that Las Vegas episode set at the Montecito’s New Orleans outpost manned by Dennis Hopper.

DRAMA/COMEDY PRESENTATION | Occasionally, due to time or budget restraints, a network won’t order a full-on pilot but rather a “presentation” offering a not-quite-complete drama or a taste of what a sitcom would look like. The CW’s Hellcats was a recent instance of a lean drama presentation that earned a series order.

CAST-CONTINGENT/CAST CONTINGENCY | Sometimes a network will order a pilot with the caveat that production can’t start until a suitable, usually “name” actor has been cast in the starring role. (A possible translation: “The premise is iffy, but a big star could really help sell it.”) So you’ll sometimes hear that with the casting of so-and-so, “the cast contingency has been lifted” on a pilot. (The sorta flip-side is an “if-come deal,” meaning the major players are pre-signed and rarin’ to go the instant the network OKs the pilot itself.)

SECOND POSITION | These are perhaps the two words that makes fans of “bubble” shows most nervous each spring, as stars from underperforming series start booking pilots (provided they get the OK from their current bosses). The term literally means that the pilot role is in second position (or priority), should their current show be renewed. For example, going back to 2010: CBS’ Mad Love pilot was in second position for Tyler Labine, who at the time was (well, theoretically) waiting to hear on Sons of Tucson‘s fate. (Similarly, Sons of Tucson the year prior was in second position to Labine’s Reaper.) More recently, Damon Wayans Jr. last spring booked a lead on Fox’s New Girl, but when ABC granted Happy Endings a Season 2, New Girl had to replace his character. An actor booking a second position gig doesn’t always mean his/her current show is doomed… though it often tends to. Variation: A “safe second” means the pilot’s bosses have been discreetly all-but-assured that the actor in question will be available.

UPFRONTS | This is the week in mid-May when the networks take turns unveiling their schedules for next season — including the pilots that have been ordered to series. With rare exception (e.g. Fox’s Breaking In), if your show doesn’t make the cut here, it’s (gulp) officially a goner.

And now, our running update of pilots ordered for the 2012-13 TV season, going network by network….

FOR A LIST OF ABC PILOTS,
PROCEED TO PAGE 2 (CLICK BELOW)

GET MORE: Burning Questions, Pilots

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94 Comments
  1. HoldOn2Smallville says:

    Where is Saving Hope starring Erica Durance for NBC and Tom Welling could be in one of those shows so many Pilot’s ….Tom is time to audition.

    • ZmaX says:

      Saving Hope isn’t listed here because it’s a Canadian show for CTV, NBC isn’t producing the show itself, but NBC is interested in it, so if it does work out, Saving Hope will most likely air during the summer here in America :D

    • coloredgirlwhosehadenuf says:

      When will we begin to see TV shows that include and authentically represent other ethnicities. It is really insulting watch the networks choose shows whose subject matter and/or era eliminate the need for diversity and inclusion. Very sad state of affairs

      • Don says:

        It might be that one person’s idea of “authentically represent” is another’s idea of “propogating a stereotype”. What is the definition of “authentically representing an ethnicity”?

      • Yes I agree Hollywood needs to allow more opportunities for many races.Being an actress is tough,however being a black actress is even harder.the amount of roles for black woman is so small and it is sad.I am a 20 year old african american actress and when trying to get signed to an agent they told me they had enough of my type.I looked at their client list and they had 2 blacks girls and over 50 white girls.This is not the first time this has happened.Viola Davis spoke about this in her career as well.We need to be aware that racism is still alive in Hollywood and that is 1 of the main reasons why I am an actress.To change this.I wont get discourged,instead I will look upon this and know that I can create change in Tv and film.Just like Halle Berry did.

        • maybe your “not” want they want…. ever think of that? So instead of screaming racisim every fricking time one of you idiots don’t get your way, take a look at the entire picture…

  2. Maharlika says:

    Question: How come every pilot episode of a freshman show is always named “Pilot”? Can’t they think of a more impressive episode title to welcome viewers into a show?

    • wow says:

      hahahahahah thats a good one! what a knee slapper

    • Dan says:

      Well, the pilot episode of Pushing Daisies was titled “Pie-lette,” a bit different and fitting.

    • Captain says:

      They aren’t always named Pilot but a lot of the time they are. For instance, the 90210 pilot was called “We’re Not in Kansas Anymore.”

      • Eboy says:

        Difference though is that 90210 went straight to series without having to undergo the standard pilot process (Thus why during the 2008 upfronts 90210 never showed a a trailer of a shot pilot but had just already finished casting).
        Good thing some of my favorite shows never had “Pilot” as the title of their first ever episode like Charmed’s “Something Wicca This Way Comes” and Friends’ “The First One”.

    • Don says:

      It probably dates back to when pilots were not aired as part of the series. (Did you know the “Hogan’s Heroes” pilot was in black and white?) Now, it has reached the point where series have been cancelled after airing one episode, which happened to be the pilot (“Emily’s Reasons Why Not,” anyone?).
      Also, “Futurama’s” pilot episode was titled “Space Pilot 3000″.

  3. What?! says:

    I thought NBC had already picked up the JJ Abrams project to pilot. Though Pilot production commitment thought they had to produce it or pay a buttload of money to WB.

  4. Martin says:

    Thanks so much for this. It may sound dumb, but I kind of needed this. Kind of shows us how the whole pilot season works.

  5. Dwayne says:

    I kind of knew how pilot season worked but it was still very informative knowing who picked up what pilots. Isabel on NBC reminds me of Matilda..lol

  6. Marisa says:

    I loooooooooooove Pilot Season! Woohooo!

  7. Mike says:

    These shows all sound like a pile of crap. Bored to death just reading about them.

  8. Tarc says:

    I’m most interested in Beautiful People, and I’m rather happy it’s on NBC, so it should get a decent chance to prove itself. JJ’s Shelter sounds like it might be great – but it also sounds exactly like a The Love Boat redeux on land.

    • Steve says:

      Agreed. Beautiful People, at first blush, appears quite promising. A very imaginative story line, and not the same worn out themes we see every year.

  9. Will says:

    Didn’t somebody already do a show called Nashville?

  10. Leon says:

    Don’t know what to make of NBC…there shows don’t seem all that interesting, at least last year they had controversy & mystery(sure they failed), but alot of the shows wont make it.

  11. martina says:

    Gilded Lily’s sounds interesting

  12. mafou says:

    isn’t CBS’ Elementary following the same “modern twist” as BBC’s SHERLOCK???? way to be original!

    • Sourabh says:

      That is horrible indeed. And with all the press, it will overshadow BBC’s Sherlock, which is an amazing show.

      • MJ says:

        I hope that doesn’t happen, BBC’s Sherlock is such a great show. There is no way cbs can do it better than the brits, most of their procedurals are generic and boring.
        Plus, does anyone really think making Sherlock Holmes american is a good idea?

        • mafou says:

          I don’t think they can hold a candle to Sherlock! That show is brilliant! Everything in it is so well done. it always leaves me wanting more, and 3 episodes a year are not enough!!!

    • Znachki says:

      That’s the general feeling. The producers of Elementary first tried to licence the BBC series (like they did with The Office, for instance), but were turned down. So, they’ve decided to do this. Which will be really interesting, seeing as they can’t do anything that marks the BBC series as unique. You can bet that Vertue, Moffatt & Co. will be keeping an eye on this.

  13. Jo says:

    You forgot one definition. CBS PILOT: poorly written low brow crime drama designed to appeal to the elderly and adults who never finished high school.

    • d4h8a15r16m23a42 says:

      And what’s the definition for the pilots your network produces?

    • GK says:

      Except for POI! I think its the best new show and the smart writing is what makes it work.

    • josie says:

      Except they have the Good wife, which is still one of the one drama shows, it seems as critics actually like. And you actually do have to think a lot to watch that one.And I would actually not be sure about the finnishing high school part, sure some might not have I am however not sure it is everyone… ¨
      plus if you go with that one, everyone could just as well say that forgot CW which only seems to care about badly written shows no one seems to watch and is only for teen-age girls.

    • J says:

      You forgot to finish the definition
      … That make lots of money and employs many people.
      Which GASP at the end of the day all tv is about. Make money, pay the bills

  14. alyssa897 says:

    These are the shows that sound the most interesting just based on descriptions.
    ABC: 666 Park Ave., American Judy, Beauty and the Beast (although I don’t see the point of this show. It sounds like Once Upon a Time, but with Belle as the main character instead of Snow White), Gotham
    CBS: Nothing. No surprise there.
    CW: Carries Diaries (I absolutely love the book series. I heard rumors that Miley Cyrus was in talks to play Carrie and I will not watch if she is in any way involved), Green Arrow, Joey Dakota, The Selection
    Fox: Untitled Kevin Williamson Project, Untitled Mindy Kaling Project, Untitled Teen Spy Drama (this sounds just like the Gallagher Girls book series by Ally Carter! This pilot sounds the most interesting to me)
    NBC: Isabel

    • Amiee says:

      How could they possibly pick Miley Cyrus to play Carrie. Her twangy country accent would absolutly not fit someone who was born and raised in manhattan. Ugh! That would ruin the show completely!

    • Sally says:

      The untitled teen spy drama sounds like a teen version of Alias to be honest.

  15. cj says:

    as usual… CBS has tons of procedurals, ABC has corny/cheap sounding comedies, the CW takes aim at high school girls, FOX isn’t particularly memorable (yet seems to always come out middle of the road), and NBC goes for really high brow stuff that most people aren’t willing to think very deeply about.

  16. shuayb says:

    There are just so many pilots for the next season. Where are they going to fit them all? Seriously? ABC has the most! And they have some good shows!
    I know not every piloit will make it to upfronts, but still.
    Some of them, don’t even have good stories.

    • Ben says:

      Aside from the fact that most of these will not make it to upfronts you forgot that the networks will most likely be canceling two or three shows from their schedules at the end of this season.

  17. Tater says:

    Fox’s pilot for El Jefe should cast Scott Krinsky (Jeff Barnes “CHUCK”) in the lead…The description just screams Scott Krinsky to me..haha.

  18. josie says:

    Okay so CW’s first cut sounds a lot like a copy of Grey’s anatomy.
    And it sound slike NBC, is trying to find their own next E.R. with County, I guess if they actually spin that one right it could be a succes, they need a lot. So for their sakeI actually hope they manage to spin that on the right way.

  19. joui says:

    Only Fools and Horses – USA version? I bet it is gonna be more like “2 Broke Boys” than anything that would begin to even come close to the original.

  20. Winchester says:

    I do know only a few of them will be given series orders, but those are a lot of pilots. The following look interesting and I hope they get picked up:
    FOX: Kevin Williamson’s drama. None of the others coz I want FOX to give Fringe and Alcatraz another season.
    CBS: Elementary. Sherlock in NYC! I wonder how that’ll work without looking ridiculous for a 22-episode season. British modern version Sherlock is pure genius. Everybody should watch that.
    CW: The Selection, B&B, GA and Shelter (just coz it has JJ Abrams stamp of approval)
    ABC: 666 Park Ave, Gotham, Last Resort and B&B
    NBC: Beautiful People, Do No Harm, The Frontier, Midnight Sun and season 2 for TOUCH!! I want Community to have another season, so hoping none of the comedies make it.

  21. kirads09 says:

    There are only two that appeal to me due to the people set to star.
    The Roseanne Barr comedy and the Kevin Bacon drama.
    Otherwise, I honestly am left feeling “meh” about all these other shows. And the networks wonder why they are losing viewers?

  22. nola moss says:

    saving hope? There is nothing original always the same soup, too bad!

  23. sarah says:

    We MISS TOM WELLING!

  24. mary carter says:

    I want Tom WElling on my television!

    • Kirk says:

      I promise you the decision to bring Tom back to television has ABSOLUTLY nothing to do with how many times you post here.

  25. Jamie says:

    I love Reba as much as anyone but all her shows are exactly the same. Can’t we try for something different just once?

  26. Dav says:

    HaHaHa! I had to laugh at Elementary when I read “Created by: Arthur Conan Doyle.” I’m betting that this show will not resemble in anyway something that he would write. I also feel pretty safe in saying that the BBC version will be better.

  27. Jeff says:

    So, is Kevin Bacon going to be the FBI agent or the Serial Killer? Either would be cool actually…

  28. Scott says:

    Peaks MY interest (i.e. could be good if done well)
    .
    ABC:
    666 Park Ave
    Gotham
    Last Resort
    Zero Hour
    .
    CBS:
    Elementary
    Golden Boy
    Queen
    Trooper
    .
    CW:
    Cult
    Green Arrow
    .
    FOX:
    Untitled Kevin Williamson Drama
    Untitled Teen Spy Drama
    .
    NDC:
    Beautiful People
    Chicago Fire
    Isabel

  29. Ari says:

    I wish you put what genre the pilots are. A comedy about 3 sisters running a diner has more potential than a drama featuring 3 sisters running a diner, IMO. Is it too soon to say what genre the shows are going to be?

    • elr says:

      That is a very good idea Ari. That would help with those Untitled so-and-so projects too. Let’s hope not all of them will end up as Dramedies, which would really kill my interest in them.

  30. Evan says:

    Hey Mike, any word on Amy Palladino’s “Bunheads” ?

  31. Ben says:

    No, no, no. Stay away from Only Fools and Horses! Is nothing sacred?

  32. John Grose says:

    I would be very interested in reading more articles like this one. I like television and hearing more about how it all works is very enlightening. – John

  33. liz says:

    Can I just say how happy I am to see “Diana Fairgate” (aka Claudia Lonow) listed as producer on a few of these shows, anyone with a connection to Knots Landing has a leg up on the competition. Oh how I miss that show…

  34. Anna says:

    I’m wondering how long it will take for Christian groups to kibosh that “666” title.

  35. Mick says:

    I heard Americana has a good script

  36. Paul says:

    The first episode of Quantum Leap, Sam leaped into a test pilot, adding extra meaning to “The Pilot Episode”

  37. Bill H says:

    Most of these, without more information, sounds like crap. On the other hand, Andrea Parker back on TV is a big win.

  38. Katrina says:

    There are a few interesting concepts in the bunch. I hope the good ones make it to series. I’m still bummed we never got to see “Poe” from last year’s pilot season. I’m most excited for ABC’s Beauty and the Beast and Gilded Lillys, CW’s The Selection and Fox’s Kevin Williamson and Mindy Kaling shows.
    ABC: 666 Park Ave, Beauty & the Beast, Gilded Lillys, Gotham and Prairie Dogg
    CBS: Super Fun Night and Elementary
    CW: B&B, Cult, First Cut and The Selection
    Fox: Untitled Kevin Williamson, Mindy Kaling and Teen Spy Drama, The Asset
    NBC: Chicago Fire, The Frontier, Midnight Sun and Untitled Hilary Winston

  39. humi says:

    What about The Hollows project at the CW????

  40. alexjones says:

    a few of these shows sound interesting, but i’m not going to get to excited at this point, i’ll wait til may and see which of these series will actually be on the schedule next year.

  41. alexjones says:

    I notice that both ABC and CW have a show called beauty and the beast, if they both get picked up it’s going to cause quite a bit of confusion, most likely one of them will have to be renamed.

  42. Danielle H says:

    LOL information overload! I think I’ll just wait until upfronts to see what actually is going to air.

  43. Amanda says:

    The British version of “Friday Night Dinner” is hilarious. I would love to see an American version of it if it is done well. I hope they find some good writers for it.

  44. claire says:

    “The procedural thriller centers on the orphaned 17-year-old daughter of a CIA operative who is recruited to become an operative herself. She encounters a mysterious rogue agent/assassin who serves as both her surrogate father and professional mentor in the spy world.”
    Sounds a lot like Pascal’s Fearless Series (minus the fearless thing.)
    But seriously now, a 17 year old CIA operative? Yeah, sound totally plausible…

  45. Boone says:

    ABC:
    Gotham
    Last Resort by Shawn Ryan (The Shield, The Chicago Code)
    Zero Hour by Paul Scheuring (the creator of “Prison Break”)
    The CW
    Cult by Rockne O’Bannon (the creator of “Farscape”)
    Green Arrow
    FOX
    The Asset by Josh Friedman (the creator of “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”)
    Untitled Kevin Williamson Project by Williamson (the creator/Writer of “Scream”, “The Faculty”, “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Secret Circle”)
    NBC
    The Frontier by Shaun Cassidy (the creator of “American Gothic” and “Invasion”)

  46. Sarah says:

    I love this article, TVline! You guys are the best. Also three things:
    1. Can Tyler Labine please land on a show that shows off how hilarious he is and actually sticks around?
    2. Jami Gertz deserves better.
    3. KEVIN BACON!!

  47. jmk says:

    I am happy to see Reba has a show coming out.

  48. lalez says:

    confusion about Gotham on my part.
    What the hell?
    Why are they naming a show after such an icon comic town?
    It is bound to get confused
    we´ll see but i have low expectations

  49. Kalena Henden says:

    How is it even legal to make “The Selection”? Looks exactly like “Hunger Games” for tv.

  50. elr says:

    I must admit that there were only 2 Fox and 3 ABC pilots that sounded good to me. But, there was a lot that interested me on CBS, CW and especially NBC.

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