Pilot season is upon us, meaning the broadcast networks are taking stock of their needs for the 2018-19 TV season and getting the ball rolling toward filling any gaps. With things about to get really interesting — it’s time to start booking stars 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 a pilot, they’re asking its writers/producers/studio to cast and produce a very close facsimile of a series’ first episode. Each pilot is reviewed by network brass, then typically put into testing before its fate is decided. (A “put pilot” has a greater likelihood 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, Supernatural this winter brought together Sheriff Jody Mills and a group of orphaned young women, and that was a planted pilot for Wayward Sisters. (Free History Lesson: That Brady Bunch episode with neighbor Ken Berry adopting three diverse boys? That was an ill-fated planted pilot, for a spin-off to be called Kelly’s Kids.)
DRAMA/COMEDY PRESENTATION | Due to time or budget restraints, a network sometimes won’t order a full pilot but a shorter “presentation” that gives a sense of what a drama or sitcom would look like.
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.
SECOND POSITION | AKA the two words that make fans of “bubble” shows extremely anxious 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 (or priority) if their show gets 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 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 a goner.
And now, our running update of pilots ordered for the 2018-19 TV season, going network by network….