One Big Surprise About TV Call-Backs and Reading for Producers by Brian O’Neil

Brian O NeilHere’s something  few actors– and their representatives–know about episodic television.

I was talking recently to a writer/producer friend of mine who has held that position for years on a major hit New York television show.  Here is what he said:  “Let’s say there is an audition for our casting director for an episode guest star and twenty actors read for the casting director. If five are called back to read for me and the third one nails it, the role is gone.  It’s cast.  Actors number four and five don’t have a chance, no matter how much they “nail it.”

We almost never go backwards in this area. Why?  Partly because the show runner and I have often left the room.  I have an episode to finish writing and/or the show-runner has to check a location. We’re shooting a weekly show and everything has to be done yesterday.  There’s no need to sit there and watch what everyone else can do when someone gave us what we need. To draw a sports analogy, it’s the same reason why a baseball team who’s winning doesn’t play the bottom of the ninth.  The game is won.”

Now, before actors say “That’s not fair…etc. etc”  Let me point out a few things. Whoever got it “before you” is going through the same thing elsewhere.  You go in, you do your best, and then it’s out of your hands. Everyone goes through it; it’s the way the system works. And it IS highly beneficial for the actor who got a “call back” because they get to read again for the casting director.  And will probably be called back in for something else.  It’s all good. Really good. Trust it.

Another reason I am writing this is because I think actors should be discerning when asking their agents for “feedback” on a call-back. Why?  Because I’ve never encountered a situation where a casting director said “He was great, but by the time he entered the room the decision was made.”  Has it been said?  Maybe, but not to me or any of the agents or managers I polled.  So you’ll get some other “reason” that may not be of much help. Just keep getting called back and “nailing” it and one of these jobs WILL have your name on it!!

And as long as you’re getting called back, most representatives will keep sending you out.  Most. Why? Because you are making both you AND them looking good by auditioning well (hence, the call-back)   So, know that you very well may have “nailed it”, but so did someone else.  Don’t beat yourself up over it or second guess it.

Just hang in there!

Brian O’Neil  is the best-selling author of Acting As a Business:  Strategies for Success:  Fifth Edition.  A former agent and personal manager he is currently faculty at The Juilliard School and NYU/Tisch School of the Arts.  He is a career coach/consultant and you can learn more about Brian at

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