I got this email today:
Lee, my aunt and I were discussing when the season premieres usually start
filming, and my aunt was confused as to when the cast take their hiatus and come
back to work. Could you provide a rough ‘year’ schedule for a series as far as
the cast is concerned – when they work on the shows, how far ahead of an episode
is their work done? We’re working under the assumption of a show that has been
on air already one year and is definitely coming back for the next few years. I
couldn’t answer any of her questions.
A successful series, one in which the producers know they are coming back for another season, can bank scripts and even shoot some "next season" episodes at the end of the "current season" (LAW AND ORDER has done this).
But in general, fall season shows usually start filming in July or early August and wrap some time in March or
early April. The fall schedules are announced in late May and people usually straggle back from hiatus in early June.
Not counting the time it takes to develop and write a script, it takes about six weeks to produce an episode — from pre-production
(scouting locations, building sets, casting actors) through post-production
(editing, music, sound effects, color correction, looping, etc.). This doesn’t include FX heavy shows like BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, which naturally take longer in post-production. Most hour-long dramatic shows are shot in seven or eight days… though some cheapo syndicated and cable shows are shot in six.