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A Look At TV Pilot Casting Season & Black Actors: 2012 vs 2013, The Forgotten Ones, etc - Part 1

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by Tambay A. Obenson
March 26, 2013 1:13 PM
2 Comments
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last resort

I'll be posting a series of entries on TV pilot season casting over the next 2 or 3 days, as I continue to compile and analyze available data... starting with this one.

As previously noted, at a brief glance, there appear to be more castings of black actors in TV pilots this year than there were last year, and maybe even previous years. 

To confirm or negate my theory, I went ahead and actually went through all the pilot casting announcements we posted during pilot casting season last year, as well as this year (although this year is still ongoing, so there could be more announcements to come. Traditionally, pilot casting season happens between January and March/April each year, although, throughout the year, TV networks do sometimes announce castings. The bulk just tends to happen between January and April). 

I'll admit that we probably missed a few here and there, but I feel confident that we caught the majority of them, and thus these results, while not exact figures, aren't so far off the actual numbers, and I'm more concerned with overall trends. 

The question during pilot casting season is: How many of these pilots will actually make it to series, as the fall TV season begins in September?

You might recall the The 10 Things You Need to Know About the New Season entry I posted a couple of times on this site, which helps answer that question - specifically, that 5% of new shows that are announced never air. I'm surprised that figure isn't actually a lot higher, especially given the number of new shows announced last pilot season with black actors in starring or supporting roles, that never made it to series - this, according to my research.

First, on average, going back to the 2009 season, about 100 pilots are produced each year, but the number varies, with roughly 35% of them getting picked up.

Comparing last year's pilot casting season and this year's, looking specifically at black actors, I counted about 20 network TV pilot castings of black actors in 2012, versus around 35 (and counting) in 2013. I should make it clear that, to make things a bit easier on myself, I looked at ONLY broadcast network TV pilots. So cable TV pilot castings aren't included in those figures; although I plan to look at cable TV separately in later posts. I just needed to make that clear for obvious reasons.

This confirms my assumptions that there are far more pilot castings of black actors this year than there were last year, almost double actually (I should note that 2013 casting continues, so there could be more coming).

What to make of this turn, I'm not certain. Time will tell... of course time will also tell how many of these new pilots actually get picked up to series; and still, looking further out, how many don't get canceled after the first season, or before the first season ends.

It's not clear to me that there has been a definite deliberate push by the studio networks to cast more black actors in TV shows. Looking at these figures, you'd think that there was some kind of a meeting of the minds at the executive level, and a decision was made to cast more black actors this season, with almost twice as many castings this year than last.

But it's a good thing. I'm certainly not complaining. And neither are the actors who've been cast, I'm sure.

Again, the question is how many of these will eventually make it to network TV fall/mid-season schedules...

Today, I thought I'd remind you of the several pilots announced last season, that featured black actors, but which were never picked up to series, or, at least, haven't debuted yet. 

It's interesting to see the entire lot, and what could've been, which makes me wonder what it was exactly about these potential shows specifically that the networks felt warranted a pass instead of a pick-up.

I also wonder if we'll ever see the pilot episodes of each of these (those that were actually shot); I think the networks should release them anyway, even if it's a year later. Maybe put them online, on their websites, or even on sites like YouTube and Hulu, for audiences to watch and decide for themselves. Who knows - they might discover that there are gems in the lot, given how audiences react to them.

Maybe there should be a PilotsThatWereNotPickedUp.com where all of them are dumped.

But without further ado, here are network TV (not including cable TV) pilots announced last season that never made it to schedule, or haven't debuted yet (but might eventually). And, as I said, this is the first in a series of posts on TV pilot castings, so expect more over the next few days, looking at different aspects of the subject. Again, for this post, I only considered network TV pilots; cable TV pilots aren't included here:

1 - Ernie Hudson and Megalyn Echikunwoke were cast in NBC's futuristic drama Beautiful People. The show is set in the near future in a society where humans co-exist with mechanical androids that look like people but are treated like second-class citizens - essentially the period before the machines rise and take over the world, creating a matrix.

2 - Michael B. Jordan was to return to the small screen to star opposite Jason Ritter in a pilot episode for an NBC drama called County.

3 - Yaya DaCosta was cast in a Roland Emmerich drama pilot for ABC, which was to center on an astrophysics grad student in NYC who learns that he is the chosen one to destroy the forces of evil.

4 - Jurnee Smollett and Tracee Ellis Ross signed on to play leads in the NBC women's prison drama pilot titled Bad Girls - an adaptation of a UK series.

5 - Toni Trucks was cast in CBS' legal drama pilot Baby Big Shot, which was to center on the life of a working-class woman named Marina who uses her street smarts to compete with her more polished colleagues at a top New York law firm.

6 - Funnyman Larry Wilmore and funnywoman Anna Maria Horsford signed on to co-star opposite Mike Vogel in a Fox comedy pilot titled Living Loaded. Said to be based on a book of the same name by Dan DunnLiving Loaded was to center on Dan (Vogel), the loose partying blogger of the popular Living Loaded blog who is forced to change his career plans when he becomes an NPR radio host.

7 - Edi Gathegi signed up to co-star opposite Kyle Bornheimer in ABC’s comedy pilot called White Van Man (the title was eventually switched to Family Tools), which centers on Jack (Bornheimer) who is forced to put his dreams on hold in order to take over the family handyman business from his father Tony (played by J.K. Simmons).

8 - Cuba Gooding Jr. and Sharon Leal were both slated to star in Fox's Greg Belanti legal drama series Guilty, as a morally dubious defense attorney who is unjustly convicted of fraud and consequently stripped of his license. 

9 - Tiffany Hines joined the cast of ABC’s drama pilot Americana, described as a soap about a famous fashion industry clan, starring Anthony LaPaglia, as the patriarch of a sprawling family who just welcomed a new member, Alice Clarke (Ashley Greene), a young designer whose shocking arrival turns the family and the legendary label inside out.

These are the shows that didn't make the fall 2012/2013 TV season cut. Again, as I said earlier, there are likely a few that I missed. Feel free to add to the list in the comment section below, if you are aware of any others.

Of course, there were those that did make the cut, but were canceled; like ABC's The Last Resort, which Andre Braugher and Sahr Ngaujah starred in. ABC didn't even pick it up for a full season.

Also, NBC canceled its Jekyll-and-Hyde-ish thriller, Do No Harm, after just 2 episodes! Phylicia Rashad co-starred.

Echo Kellum had a supporting role in the canceled Fox comedy series, Ben & Kate.

ABC canceled 666 Park Avenue, which Vanessa Williams co-starred in. 

And there were a few others...

I'll be back tomorrow for another look at TV pilot casting season and black actors.


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2 Comments

  • Tom Haverford | March 26, 2013 2:19 PMReply

    Family Tools did actually make the cut, and is set to premiere in May. Gathegi is still listed as part of the cast.

  • Johnson | March 26, 2013 8:34 PM

    Yeah. Not to mention Danielle Nicolet who is also on Family Tools

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