In a few days the official “pilot season” will begin. What does that mean? Well, first – the pilot season is not as plentiful as it used to be. Once upon a time (not so long ago), almost all new shows were cast between the months of January and April. Then if they got sold, they would start filming during the summer so that by September, the new season could begin. And although about sixty percent of new shows still do it on that schedule, the rest get made and sold all during the year – especially shows that will air on cable (HBO, AMC, FX, etc.).
But whether they do it on the established schedule or at some other time of the year, the way a show gets on the air still works about the same way in most cases.
A television producer will have a script for a new show. Maybe he wrote the script himself, or maybe he bought it (or optioned it). This producer is the guy (or gal) who is the one in charge of getting the pilot made and sold, and he's called the “Show-runner.”
The show-runner will take his script to a casting director, who he'll work closely with to cast the show. Since the actors who will become the regular cast on the show are the most important – especially the stars – they'll be cast before the supporting regulars. In fact, if the show runner can get a big name star (Like Robin Williams) to agree to do the show, his job of selling it to the network becomes so much easier. Now they just have to cast the rest of the actors, who may have to audition four to six times for various studio and network executives.
Once the pilot is made, the show-runner will show it to the network executives in the hope that they will place an “order” for a number of shows.
And how many shows will they order? Well, that depends. If it's a show like “The Crazy Ones,” starring Robin Williams, they may order a full season up front – maybe as many as 22 shows. However, most shows get an initial order of around six shows to see how they'll do in the ratings. And even that is exceptional when you consider that most pilots never get any orders! Yep – I've done two pilots (both with recognizable lead actors) and neither one sold. The other one I worked one got an order for six episodes, but the network only aired two before it cancelled the show.
Gone are the days when a network would order 39 shows (for a full season) and air all of them before making a decision as to whether the ratings were high enough to order a second season. I'm sure all of you have probably seen that happen – you start to watch some new show and all of a sudden – it's gone!
There is even more involved with getting a new show on the air, but I hope this post gives you some idea of what goes on behind the scenes of getting a new television show on the air.