Pilot season is upon us, meaning the broadcast networks are taking stock of their needs for 2017-18 and getting the ball rolling toward filling any gaps. With things about to get really interesting — meaning it’s time to start booking actors for these wannabe hits! — TVLine presents its annual round-up of who’s planning what, and well as our guide to the lingo that gets tossed around.
PILOT | When a network orders (or “picks up”) a pilot, they’re asking its writers/producers/studio to cast and produce a facsimile of what a series’ first episode will look like. Each pilot is reviewed by network brass, then typically put into testing before its fate is decided. (A “put pilot” has a greater guarantee of going to series, as there is a significant financial penalty if it does not.)
PLANTED SPIN-OFF | Also called a “backdoor” pilot, this is an episode of an existing series that sets up a prospective offshoot. For example, Chicago Fire took us inside a hospital in Season 3, and that was a planted pilot for Chicago Med. (Free History Lesson: That Brady Bunch episode with neighbor Ken Berry adopting three diverse orphans? That was an ill-fated planted pilot, for the spin-off Kelly’s Kids.)
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DRAMA/COMEDY PRESENTATION | Due to time or budget restraints, a network sometimes won’t order a full pilot but a “presentation” of a not-quite-complete drama or sitcom.
CAST-CONTINGENT | Sometimes a network will order a pilot with the caveat that production can’t start until a suitable (read: “name”) actor has been cast in a lead role. (One translation: “The premise is iffy, but a big star could 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 picks up the pilot.)
SECOND POSITION | AKA the two words that make fans of “bubble” shows nervous each spring, as stars from low-rated series start booking pilots (provided they get the OK from their current bosses). The term literally means that a pilot role is in second position/priority should their show get renewed. An actor booking a second position gig doesn’t always mean his/her current show is doomed… though it usually does. Variation: A “safe second” means the pilot’s bosses have been discreetly all-but-assured that the actor will be available.
UPFRONTS | 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 officially a goner.
And now, our running update of pilots ordered for the 2017-18 TV season, going network by network….