Standoff Between Casting Directors And TV Studios Threatens Primetime Pilot Season

EXCLUSIVE: The broadcast networks are starting to pick up drama and comedy pilots for next fall. But who will cast them? I hear no deal with casting directors for the pilots ordered since the beginning of the year have closed as casting directors and TV studios are in a bitter standoff. The issue at hand is who will pay for casting directors’ assistants and associates, with casting directors demanding that the studio pick up the tab. I hear in the past TV studios would sometimes cover those costs on a case-to-case basis but this time, casting directors have banded together to demand that this becomes a standard industry-wide practice. The TV studios have refused, and the two sides are now at a standstill.

In 2005, the film and TV casting directors became unionized, joining the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. So I hear the teamsters have now gotten involved in the conflict and are meeting with the studios. “It will be very interesting,” one talent agent said. The timing of the action seems carefully chosen as it jeopardizes the broadcast networks’ pilot season, the most intense production period on the TV calendar. Some 80+ pilots are cast from January to March every year by the broadcast networks and delaying the start of that process could wreak havoc in the networks’ upfront plans. (The last time the networks’ pilot season was pushed was during the 2007-08 writers strike, with some networks, like CBS rushing to cast and shoot pilots in record time after the strike was over, and some, like ABC, pushing all pilot production to after the upfronts.) According to sources, this is not an issue for casting directors who work on a movie or have multiple shows as they already have staffs. The problem is for casting directors who do pilots as a one-off.

If the issue is not resolved soon, I hear TV studios are considering going all-in-house with pilot casting, which could overwhelm their casting departments.

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