Strike rewrites the TV business

Development process may never be same

The 2007-08 writers strike has lasted half as long as the walkout of 1988, but its short- and long-term effects on the television business could be more profound and longer-lasting.

"It has been very detrimental to the scripted television business," one studio chief said.

Another studio topper pointed to Wednesday, when all broadcast networks offered original scripted series at 10 p.m. but none could crack a 3 rating in the 18-49 demo.

"It speaks to the fact that viewers don't know that original programming is on the air, and to some degree, they don't care," the exec said. "Viewers are out of the habit of watching original scripted series, and it will take a long time for them to develop renewed interest and compulsion to watch again."

Most broadcast networks will try to rebuild viewers' interest as quickly as possible, rushing existing series into production right away and bringing original episodes on the air as soon as four weeks from now.

CBS and the CW, which have been hit hard by the strike, are said to be aggressive about putting scripted originals, including CBS' Monday comedies and hit crime dramas, on as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, NBC — which found some success during the strike with unscripted fare and whose executives have been vocal about making production more cost-efficient — would not be bringing most of their dramas back for new episodes this spring, sources said. Instead, the network is planning to bank the extra produced episodes and run longer seasons with more stretches of original segments next season.

ABC and Fox are said to be taking a mixed approach. Additionally, some nets are considering running originals into June, beyond the official end of the broadcast season in late May.

As for networks' development post-strike, "it's going to be a potpourri of a lot of different things — some shows will be ordered to series, some to pilots, some to presentations, some shows will be asked to produce more scripts, and some shows that are too big and too ambitious will be relegated to a slower time track," one studio chief said. ABC, CBS, Fox and the CW together already axed about 100 commissioned scripts last month, citing the effects of the strike.

The biggest winner of the writers strike was Fox, riding high on a record Super Bowl, sky-high NFC championships, "American Idol," "House" and "Moment of Truth."

NBC also seems to have benefited from the strike, rising to second place in adults 18-49 for the season (tied with ABC) thanks to success with "American Gladiators," "The Biggest Loser" and, to some degree, "Celebrity Apprentice."

ABC has suffered without originals of its biggest scripted hits. CBS also took a hit because it held back most of its midseason replacements for February, and its schedule didn't repeat as well as some had hoped.

In the worst shape is the CW, which so far in February is down 47% from last year in its target 18-34 demo. That's been to the benefit of Spanish-language Univision, which has staked its claim to becoming the fifth major network.

Nellie Andreeva reported from Los Angeles; Paul Gough reported from New York. Kimberly Nordyke in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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