Pilot season can be stressful enough to make the typical auditioning process feel easy in comparison. After getting through the auditions, actors also have to make it through two tests—the studio test and the network test. The studio test, which is intimidating on its own, is the steppingstone to the ultimate test—the network.
Ally Lattman, a development executive who has worked for such studios as Lionsgate Television and Universal Television, says that on average 7–10 people will be in the room for a studio test, including studio executives (casting, production, development), producers, the writer, the director, the casting director, and often a casting associate. The casting director typically runs the studio test, and the casting associate reads with the actor, although sometimes the casting director will read. The development executive on the show is frequently the person representing the studio, and at studios without a casting executive, the development executive will often sit in on producer sessions as well. It is more common for actors to get notes in the room at the studio level than at the network level. The notes typically come from the writer and/or the director. After each role is finished, the writer and director will pitch their favorites to the studio executives, who ultimately select the top two or three actors for each role to move on to the network test.
At the network level, actors test in front of an audience of up to 20 people, which often includes the head of the network, according to Risa Bramon Garcia, who is casting “Masters of Sex” for Sony and Showtime and has cast multiple pilots, including “CSI: NY,” “A Gifted Man,” and “Rewind.” Although the number of people in attendance varies, it always consists of three groups—the creative team (the creator/showrunner, producers, the director, the casting director), the studio team (casting executives, development executives, production executives, the head of the studio), and the network team (casting executives, development executives, production executives, the head of the network).
The network test operates similarly to the studio test, although it may be shorter and more formal, and typically fewer notes are given to actors. The casting director facilitates the process, but everyone in the room defers to the highest-level executive from the network (frequently the head of the network). Following the test, the head of the network will give the creative team a chance to make a pitch for an actor. Lattman says the studio executives will also give pitches and explain their choices for the network. The network casting executive may also weigh in.
The room is often tense, given that the stakes are high for everyone involved. However, even though several high-level executives will be in the room and the process is fast and formal, actors should remember that everyone in the room wants them to succeed. They are looking for someone to bring the character and the show to life. “They all want to fall in love, and if you can do that as an actor and know that the room is just about a bunch of people wanting to see good work, then it changes everything,” Garcia says.