The TV Guide: Cracking the code on pilot season



Watching the latest test pilot of the 2019-2020 season, Sophomore Skylar Smith follows a similar method to that of a network executive. Network executives often release test pilots to a few exclusive test audiences to ensure a series has enough public interest to garner a series order.

Maggie Cargile, Staff Reporter

With the 2018-2019 TV season hitting the midseason point and beginning to dwindle down, there is beginning to be lots of talk about the upcoming 2019-2020 TV season. Avid TV watchers are starting to wonder which of their favorite shows are canceled, returning, and above all else, what new shows will be making their debut next fall. At this point in the season, networks receive hundreds upon hundreds of scripts from various screenwriters all hopeful to see their work on the silver screen sometime in the coming season. Network executives read through each script, and then choose their favorites to receive what is called a ‘put-pilot order.’ With this, the series is cast and the crew is hired to film a pilot episode for networks to view. Network executives then view the pilot and look at multiple factors such as longevity, individuality, and relevancy. The shows that meet all of these criteria are usually the shows that get a production order.

 Right now is the time when pilots are being ordered and filmed by each network. Each network uses this time to pick a handful of the best scripts received during the season, hire a cast and crew, and film a pilot episode. Some series are filmed with a straight-to-series order. This means that the show will bypass the pilot process and automatically begin filming the series. Typically, shows that receive a straight-to-series order either take a long time to make, have big names recieving a starring or production credit, and/or quickly fill a spot. For example, Fox’s upcoming animated series Bless the Hearts and Duncanville, or NBC’s upcoming Law & Order spin-off entitled Law & Order: Hate Crimes, all of which fall under at least one of those categories.

 Other series are ordered as follow-ups or revivals to existing series. This has become much more of a trend in recent years. This year there are certainly not as many revivals on deck as there  have been in the past few years, with a simple reboot of the 1993-2005 drama NYPD Blue, and the classic 1964-1972 sitcom Bewitched being offered a pilot production order at ABC, are the only reboots on deck so far. While there may not be very many reboots underway, there are a few spin-offs and even some failed pilots from previous years that have been retooled and are being reconsidered for this season. One of the most anticipated spin-offs ordered is Jane the Novella, which is set to continue the story of the beloved CW series Jane the Virgin which will be airing its final season this spring. Sophomore Skylar Smith said, “While I am very sad to see one of my favorite shows reach a conclusion, I am very hopeful that the spin-off will be picked up and the characters of Jane the Virgin will be able to continue their adventures.”

 During the pilot season, it is important to not become too attached to the idea of a certain series, as there is a very good chance it may not ever make it on air. However, even if a show is not picked, there is always a good chance the show can be retooled and repurposed the following year or can be ‘shopped’ to another network. This means that while the script is rejected by the network it was originally pitched to another network may pick up the script instead. Whatever the outcome may be, we can always guarantee a handful of promising new series come next fall.