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    Pilot Season 2009

    Last week I watched many Fall 2009 pilots for new TV shows as well as the new season on shows that had been renewed for 2009.

    It reminded me of the flurry of activity during pilot season, known to actors and the entertainment industry as the most important audition season for acting talent. Since the completed pilot’s and season openers have to be ready to air in the fall, they start the audition process the fall previous with filming in the spring. By summer they start auditioning for mid-season replacements. The TV viewers see the mid-season replacements about March, when the fall season series are wrapping up. 

    So many re-runs air spring and summer because mid-season replacements have already aired and the new season series haven’t been filmed yet.

    First-time re-runs can be a lucrative situation for actors, because they are paid according to airings. Since the shows aired once already, another airing within the calendar year means they are paid twice in the year for the same work, but the second payment is called a residual. By the time a show hits TV Land, there are no residuals left and the show is owned by the cable channel. Stars of series that are picked up by cable stations may get a one-time fee for the complete series, depending on their contracts. I know from past experience in the business that once a series is sold to a wider market, the well-known actors may receive a percentage of the selling price as well. This must be negotiated in the contract before it ever goes to air and this is where agents, managers and talent lawyers earn their keep.

    There is a good percentage of pilots and made for TV movies that are filmed, but never aired. The actors are paid for their work, but because the shows never got picked up by networks, nothing beyond base scale is paid to most of the actors, other than the stars. 

    Screen Actors Guild members are paid a base of $122 for their first eight hours work plus overtime and extras for special situations like missed meals called a “meal penalty.” In this way a background actor could earn $335 dollars for a 16-hour day of shooting.

    I was cast in a show called “The Girls Guide” which was never picked up and subsequently not filmed. The show only went to rehearsal, but never film, because the production company couldn’t afford to complete filming without a network green light and front money.

    I must say I am very happy with most of the new shows I’ve seen this fall so far like “Mercy,” “The Good Wife,” “Accidentally On Purpose” and “Glee.” And what makes them even more interesting is knowing how much work went into the shows before any of them saw the light of day.

    Kathryn Spira, a native of Cleveland who pursued an acting career in NYC and Los Angeles, now pursues free lance writing from Caroga Lake in Fulton County. Previous columns may be accessed at her web site www.kathrynskorner.com