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Strike could be a reality by Monday — so expect more reality TV

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A month ago, when Hollywood was in full hand-wringing mode over the

potential of a writer’s strike, a William Morris agent confidently

declared that such a decision “would defy logic.” No reasonable

professional would dare to strike in the midst of a television season,

right?

Wrong.

Less than 12 hours after their contract expired at midnight on Oct. 31,

some 2,000-plus writers assembled in the Los Angeles Convention Center

to hear union leaders declare that a strike will occur; the only

question now is when. Many believe the picket lines could begin forming

as early as this afternoon (at least, that’s what some New York-based

scribes were led to believe based on an earlier meeting), but the

common wisdom is that the Writers Guild of America will inform writers

to start waving the placards Monday morning, unless, of course, an

11th-hour deal is hammered out over the weekend. The goal now is to

recruit some of the guild’s more recognizable faces to walk the picket

line, though it seems unlikely the WGA will drag Conan O’Brien out in

front of 30 Rock in New York. They might, however, be able to convince

30 Rock creator Tina Fey to wave a sign or two.

As dense as some of the negotiation-speak may seem (what’s all this

talk about credit and separate rights, anyway?) the writers’ complaints

are pretty simple: every time you catch an episode of Desperate

Housewives on ABC.com, creator/writer Marc Cherry (or his fellow DH

scribe, who may have written that particular epsiode) doesn’t get paid

for it. Every time a series writer generates new content for his show’s

official Web page, he doesn’t get paid for it. The writers also want a

bigger piece of DVD profits (0.6 percent, up from 0.3 percent), so if you

decide to, say, buy season one of Heroes on DVD, the scribes would get

more money in their residual checks. That’s what this dispute is about,

give or take a few disagreements over credit and pensions and such.

So what does it mean for viewers if the strike begins Monday? Late

night shows could immediately go into reruns, if David Letterman and

Jay Leno decide not to write their own shows (though Letterman and

Johnny Carson did this back in 1988). Cable yakkers like The Daily Show

and The Colbert Report could also shut down. SNL may be forced to go

black, airing repeats instead.

As for series television, most shows have about six-to-eight weeks

worth of episodes written and in the can waiting to be shot, which will

carry the networks through January, maybe early February. Writers who

also hold the title of producer can continue to come to the set, they

just can’t do any kind of writing. For instance, if Jason Lee’s joke

falls flat during the taping of My Name is Earl, creator Greg Garcia

would have to just let it go. The only sticking point that may

interrupt ongoing production is if the Teamsters (i.e., the folks who

drive all those production trucks) live up to their promise to not

cross the picket line, which would force shows to simply go dark. If

that’s the case, expect even more new reality shows to debut in the

next few months. “We’ll be ready,” says one Big Four network executive.

“This is what we get paid to do. We’ve anticipated this for months,

though honestly I thought they’d resolve it. How stupid can they be?” 

As for the impact in daytime, soaps generally have about four weeks

worth of episodes in the can.  Once the nets burn though those

originals, expect compilations of classic episodes (Victor and Nikki’s

first wedding! Luke and Laura reconcile — for the second time!) News

programs, as well as syndicated shows like The Wheel of Fortune or

Jeopardy, will not be affected. As for cable series, most shows, like

The Shield and Nip/Tuck, were shot months in advance so there will be

no impact — unless the strike is a long one.

“It’s emotion transcending logic,” opines another network executive.

“Obviously, they’re thinking they need to strike. But this isn’t like

the striking garment workers. We work alongside these people every day.

A lot of us are friends. We golf together. It’s so weird.”

As dense as some of the negotiation-speak may seem (what’s all thistalk about credit and separate rights, anyway?) the writers’ complaintsare pretty simple: every time you catch an episode of DesperateHousewives on ABC.com, creator/writer Marc Cherry (or his fellow DHscribe, who may have written that particular epsiode) doesn’t get paidfor it. Every time a series writer generates new content for his show’sofficial Web page, he doesn’t get paid for it. The writers also want abigger piece of DVD profits (0.6 percent, up from 0.3 percent), so if youdecide to, say, buy season one of Heroes on DVD, the scribes would getmore money in their residual checks. That’s what this dispute is about,give or take a few disagreements over credit and pensions and such.

So what does it mean for viewers if the strike begins Monday? Latenight shows could immediately go into reruns, if David Letterman andJay Leno decide not to write their own shows (though Letterman andJohnny Carson did this back in 1988). Cable yakkers like The Daily Showand The Colbert Report could also shut down. SNL may be forced to goblack, airing repeats instead.

As for series television, most shows have about six-to-eight weeksworth of episodes written and in the can waiting to be shot, which willcarry the networks through January, maybe early February. Writers whoalso hold the title of producer can continue to come to the set, theyjust can’t do any kind of writing. For instance, if Jason Lee’s jokefalls flat during the taping of My Name is Earl, creator Greg Garciawould have to just let it go. The only sticking point that mayinterrupt ongoing production is if the Teamsters (i.e., the folks whodrive all those production trucks) live up to their promise to notcross the picket line, which would force shows to simply go dark. Ifthat’s the case, expect even more new reality shows to debut in thenext few months. “We’ll be ready,” says one Big Four network executive.”This is what we get paid to do. We’ve anticipated this for months,though honestly I thought they’d resolve it. How stupid can they be?” 

As for the impact in daytime, soaps generally have about four weeksworth of episodes in the can.  Once the nets burn though thoseoriginals, expect compilations of classic episodes (Victor and Nikki’sfirst wedding! Luke and Laura reconcile — for the second time!) Newsprograms, as well as syndicated shows like The Wheel of Fortune orJeopardy, will not be affected. As for cable series, most shows, likeThe Shield and Nip/Tuck, were shot months in advance so there will beno impact — unless the strike is a long one.

“It’s emotion transcending logic,” opines another network executive.”Obviously, they’re thinking they need to strike. But this isn’t likethe striking garment workers. We work alongside these people every day.A lot of us are friends. We golf together. It’s so weird.”

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