Nellie Andreeva

Every year, TV studios do preliminary work on their highest-profile broadcast projects in anticipation of a pilot pickup. That work has been mostly low-key, consisting of putting together wish lists and sending out feelers to name actors to gauge their interest. But this fall, an unusually large number of pilot hopefuls have hired casting directors and issued breakdowns, initiating a formal casting process before a green light. Some, like the CW’s Amazon and NBC’s Alfonso Cuarón/J.J. Abrams drama, focused on casting the crucial lead characters — a young Wonder Woman and a 10-year-old girl in possession of a great gift/powers, respectively. Shawn Ryan/Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop reboot for CBS also cast its lead with Brandon T. Jackson before the script had been finished.

Other projects have released full-blown breakdowns. That includes Fox’s drama Rake, starring Greg Kinnear and executive produced by Peter Tolan; comedy I Suck At Girls from Bill Lawrence; and the untitled Mike Schur/Dan Goor comedy, which has Andy Samberg attached to star. Most if not all of those projects already have rich pilot production commitments, making pilot orders a sure bet. Another project with such a commitment, Adam Goldberg/Seth Gordon’s 1980s comedy How the F Am I Normal at ABC, also hired a casting director a month before its official pilot order this past Friday. And the show with the biggest deal this season, NBC’s Michael J. Fox comedy, which has a 22-episode commitment off a pitch, also has a casting director in place and is actively casting.

Starting the casting process early on projects that have a very-high-to-certain chance of getting ordered gives studios a jump on talent before the onslaught of the traditional pilot casting begins when 80-plus projects are competing — often for the same actors. But going early doesn’t always translate in landing the thesps the studios and the networks want as some sought-after actors feel skittish about committing to a project before they have looked at all the pilots in contention for next season.

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