Actorpedia Part 2: Hollywood Definitions

By Kyle Dean

After getting great feedback on our first “Actorpedia” story, we decided to throw some new definitions at you. In anticipation for pilot season, we decided to focus our choices on terms that are very common in the realm of television. Enjoy!

Guest Star: Available roles that are listed for television episodes are always categorized by how big the part is, i.e. how many lines the role has, screen time, and how important the character is to the episode’s overall story. Guest star roles are typically the largest parts in an episode, after the series regulars of course.

Co-Star: These types of roles are significantly different from their guest star counterparts. Characters that are dubbed as co-stars typically only have a few lines in the episode, and only appear in one or two scenes. Some co-stars might not have any lines at all, but just appear semi-frequently in the background of scenes, i.e. a heavily-featured extra. These types of roles are ideal for up-and-coming actors that just want to get their feet wet in the world of episodic television.

Series Regular: Refers to the main cast of a show. The show’s premise and storylines revolve around these characters, making them the most coveted roles in any pilot or television series.

Top of Show: Refers to a set amount of money that is budgeted in a show for its guest star roles. For example, a role might say that the show “Does not break top of show,” which means that no matter who the actor is, the show will not pay that person more than what their top of show rate is. Top of show rates vary on the type of show (1 hour, ½ hour), and the show’s union affiliation (SAG, AFTRA). More well-known actors are typically offered more than top of show (assuming the show breaks top), and may be offered rates such as “double top,” i.e. twice the show’s top of show rate.

Episodic: Just an alternative term for multi-episode television shows. As in, “I want to audition for more episodics.”

Pilot: The backbone of pilot season. A pilot is a single television episode that acts as an introduction or idea for an entire series. Pilots are NOT episodics, as they typically only consist of a single episode. Pilots are a big deal in this industry because the goal for any pilot is to eventually get them developed into full-fledged television series. Essentially, if you book a role in a pilot, you also have the potential of being booked in future episodes for the rest of the series (assuming that the show gets “picked up”).

Pilot Presentation: If a network and or cable channel isn’t 100% sold on a pilot, they may order a pilot presentation. Essentially, these are short (7-10 minute) concept videos that try and demonstrate the potential for an actual pilot/series. Think of them as teaser trailers for new series.

Backdoor Pilot: A type of pilot (yes, there are different types). Backdoor pilots are pilots that are filmed as standalone movies so that they can still be broadcasted on television even if they aren’t picked up. In a way, these are made-for-TV movies that, if well-received, can be developed into a series or miniseries.

Put Pilot: A type of pilot that a network or cable channel has agreed to air. This obviously means that the chances of this pilot going to series are quite high, but not necessarily guaranteed. Put pilots can still be dropped, although not without significant financial penalty to the network/cable channel that made the initial agreement.

Straight to Series: As the term suggests, some lucky pilots are automatically guaranteed to go directly to series even before the casting process begins.

Picked up: Often refers to when a network or cable channel decides to turn a pilot into a full-fledged series. This term is also typically used when an ongoing show is renewed for another season, e.g. “That show has been picked up for a third season.”

Test: Although the audition process for film and television is mostly similar, pilots always save an extra step for “testing”. These can basically be viewed as final callbacks, although testing for a pilot usually entails working out a test agreement beforehand (a type of contract). Tests are serious affairs as they are usually done in front of not only casting and producers, but the network/cable executives as well. There are even sizeable budgets set aside for testing, and actors that are out of town can be flown in and accommodated if need be.

10/13: A type of shorthand that is used to describe the nature of a role, usually in reference to series regular roles. A role that is 10/13 means that although that character is a ‘regular’, they are only guaranteed to be in 10 (out of 13) episodes. Agents/managers always take 10/13 roles with a grain of salt because they typically pay less than a full-blown regular (they are working less episodes after all), yet would still require an actor to make themselves ineligible to go out for any other pilots/series.

First Position: Actors booking more than one project at the same time is not uncommon at all in this industry. The term ‘first position’ refers to whatever project is your number one obligation. Actor obligations are typically determined by a first-come-first-serve basis. For example, if you sign on (as in, sign a contract) to work as a guest star on a show, and you then book a role in a feature film, if there are any conflicting work days with the two projects, the guest star that you booked must be given top priority, i.e. first position. Deciding which projects should be first position is always a bit tricky, and should always be done after careful consideration and consulting with your rep(s).

Network: Refers to the five major broadcast networks: ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS and CW. There are very stark differences between network television and cable. Some of the major differences are salaries and rates (network usually pays more), censoring (cable has fewer restrictions regarding nudity, language, etc.), and number of episodes (cable series typically have 13 episodes, while network has about 21 or 22).

Cable: Subscription based television, i.e. all the other channels outside of the big five. See ‘Network’ for more details.

If you have a rep, they should already be well-versed in all this language. However, if you are flying solo as an actor, being familiar with these terms will give you an extra edge when approaching the onslaught that is pilot season.


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