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Backstage Experts

4 Differences Between Cable and Network TV Auditions

4 Differences Between Cable and Network TV Auditions

I have been auditioning for a cable series and a network series recently. Actors have failed to understand the differences between the characters in each, and what effect it has on their audition.

Of course, there will be exceptions to these principles. These are not set in stone. But you must utilize these theories to lubricate your thinking before your start prepping your sides.

Network is plot driven. Cable is character driven. Network shows are self-contained within one hour. The baddie must be caught, a relationship must be resolved. What happens is more important than to whom it happens. You need to deliver clear concise characterizations for network. Pace is more important than a pause. Do not overcook the character, because that is secondary to the story rhythm being clearly communicated. Cable characters make the audience work that little bit harder. 

Network delivers recognizable emotions and relationships. Cable delivers conundrums. Network programs concisely deliver a character’s feelings and emotions. The audience is comfortable. They know the territory. Cable series performance hints at a character’s feelings, leaving subtle clues. The audience savors the intrigue and tension of being delivered morsels of information. It sets up discussion. If network TV did this, the viewer would reach for the remote.

Network is about style over substance. Cable is substance over style. Look your best for a network test. Look even better than your best. Network needs their audience to know exactly who the character is the moment they appear on screen, so dress appropriately for a network audition. Cable takes the audience into foreign territory —emotionally not geographically. A place where they have never been before. The cable script is the map, but it is the characters that create the emotional environment. 

Network decisions are driven by how you look. Cable is driven by “Have I seen this character before?” Characters in a network show need to be instantly recognizable. We know the character in a short time. In your cable audition you can make bolder decisions about your character. Warning: Be careful to not make your character bigger, but rather more obtuse, more perplexing. Find moments that give your character added dimension. 

Put simply, in network auditions we look for the actor who delivers the exact character. For a cable audition we seek an actor who delivers a version of the character—a hybrid that makes us think.

My analogy for performance is that a TV performance (network) makes the audience sit back in their chair. They know these characters. They are familiar; recognizable. A cable (or film) performance is a character we have seldom seen on screen—if ever. It makes us sit forward in our chair, forcing us to concentrate. It challenges us. 

As the success of cable drama continues, network programming will be enticed to create shows with more levels, more complexity. But for now, the intrigue is in cable characters, rather than network. And actors must deliver this if they are to audition successfully.

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Greg Apps is an Australia-based casting director, creator of The Audition Technique, and Backstage Expert. For more information, check out Apps’ full bio!

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