Pilot Season Information for Actors

Pilot season is when producers cast pilot episodes for new TV series to be aired in the fall. It can be a great opportunity for up-and-coming actors to get a break in their television acting careers. This questions and answers page offers information and advice to actors who want to know when pilot episodes are cast, how to get TV pilot auditions, and how to get the most out of pilot season to reach their career goals.

What’s a TV pilot episode?

A demo episode from an unproduced TV series. Pilots are used to give network executives a sample of what a TV series would be like. If the series gets the green light, TV pilots usually become the first episode of the first season, but not always.

When is pilot season?

Traditional pilot season spans from January to April but nowadays, with networks releasing new series year-round, there are opportunities to be cast in a TV pilot any time.

Why is pilot season such a big deal?

Young actors can see their careers skyrocket if they are cast as a series regular in a TV pilot that gets “picked up” by the networks (“picked up” means it will air on TV). Recently, a lot of pilots have involved film stars who embrace television careers. This makes it harder for unknown actors to land lead roles in TV pilots, but there’s still plenty of supporting and series regular roles open to lesser known actors.

Does pilot season still exist?

Yes, not as many pilots are being produced as in the past, but there are still a lot of career opportunities for young actors in pilot episodes.

How do I get auditions for TV pilots?

The bulk of your auditions will come from your agent. If you plan on coming to Los Angeles from out-of-town and don’t have an LA agent yet, mail your headshot and resume to Los Angeles acting agencies several months before the start of the season. Finding an agent may be hard, since most acting agencies are not interested in representing someone for just a few months, but if you are a SAG actor with strong credits on your resume, it’s worth the effort.

If you don’t have an agent, follow these acting tips on how to find acting auditions. You can also find out information about upcoming pilots in the “trades”. Variety lists pilots from the major networks and The Hollywood Reporter publishes online TV production charts that includes information on casting.

Whether you have an agent or not, casting director workshops are a great way to get your face around during pilot season. Many acting studios offer these workshops around town. Actors pay a fee for a one-time class with a casting director where they get to ask questions, read for the casting director and get feedback on their headshot and resume. Choose workshops with casting directors who cast a lot of pilots or who cast pilots you think you’re right for, but remember that these classes are educational in nature and not meant to directly get you auditions.

pilot audition

How do I nail a pilot audition?

  • Ask a lot of questions before your audition. Unlike other TV auditions, you can’t study an episode from the show to prepare, since a pilot is literally the first episode of a TV series, so you’ll want to try to gather as much information as you can about the plot, characters, and tone of the show.
  • Read the breakdown for all the characters in the pilot (especially the series regular) and try to get a copy of the script. Talk to your agent and see if you can get more information ahead of time on what the writer, director and casting people are looking for. Ask specifically what the tone of the show is, since this is important in TV and may not be obvious from the script.
  • If you’re reading for a series regular role, make strong character choices. Characterization is particularly important in pilots because series regulars often drive TV shows, so strive to create a unique character that people will want to watch week after week.

pilot season success

How does one go from a Pilot Audition
to a television acting career?

Here’s how pilot season works:

  • Every year, 70-100 pilots are produced between January and April.
  • Unless a pilot episode has already been “packaged” with a major star, agents submit their clients for available roles in each pilot, then actors get called in for pilot auditions and callbacks until the episode is fully cast. Actors then go on to shoot the episode (or a short “demo” of the episode, depending on the financing available).
  • Once a pilot episode is finished, it has to first be approved by the network. The TV pilots that are approved then have to go through test screenings that will decide if they get “picked up” to air on TV in the fall. In the end, only about 1 out of 5 pilots become TV series. Sometimes a pilot will be picked up but the network will change the cast, which is the most frustrating case scenario for a young actor.
  • Amongst the TV pilots that make it to the fall lineup, some get cancelled after a few episodes. The good news is that pilots that didn’t make it still have a chance to air later in the year if an earlier pick becomes cancelled.

The road from an initial pilot audition to a successful television acting career can be long and frustrating. A lot of TV pilots never make it to the small screen. That being said, getting cast in a pilot is great for your acting reel and resume even if the episode never airs, plus chances are you’ll get cast in future pilots and eventually book a hit show!

tv audition detour

Shall I move to LA for pilot season?

If you’re an out-of-town actor thinking of moving to Los Angeles, consider waiting until after pilot season, when you’ll face less competition and when agents and casting directors are more available to meet new talent. For more information on how to start an acting career, check out my new e-book called Become an Actor : A Guidebook for Beginning Actors. I invite you to click here to discover how the book can help you design a plan to pursue your acting dreams.

We hope all this information on pilot season helps you land your first role in a TV pilot and launch your television career.