Pilot season is here, meaning the networks are taking stock of their needs for 2014-15 and getting the ball rolling toward filling any gaps. With development season about to get really interesting — meaning it’s time to start booking actors for these wannabe series! — we thought it might help to round up the current crop, and well as define some of the lingo that gets tossed around.
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 close facsimile of what their series’ first episode will look like. Each pilot is reviewed by network brass, then typically put into testing before a decision is made on whether it’ll 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. For example, The Vampire Diaries aired an episode last April focused around Klaus, Elijah and Hayley in New Orleans, and that was a planted pilot for the spin-off The Originals. Free History Lesson: That Brady Bunch episode with new neighbor Ken Berry adopting three orphans? That was a(n ill-fated) planted pilot for a spin-off to be called Kelly’s Kids.
DRAMA/COMEDY PRESENTATION | Occasionally, due to time or budget restraints, a network won’t order a full pilot but a “presentation” of a not-quite-complete drama or a taste of what a sitcom would look like.
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 us.”) 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. Example: In spring 2011, Damon Wayans Jr. booked a lead on Fox’s New Girl, but when ABC renewed Happy Endings, 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 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, 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 2014-15 TV season, going network by network….