Nets prepare to go back to work

Talk of settlement puts contingency plans into high gear

STRIKE ZONE: Latest news and updates

After a three-month lull, agents' phones began ringing off the hook again Monday as word about an imminent end to the writers strike spread around Hollywood during the weekend.

The talks are still in the exploratory stage since the deal between the writers and the studios is still being finalized, but contingency plans put in place by the TV networks and studios will have existing series return on the air on average four weeks (for multicamera comedies) to six weeks (for dramas) after the official end of the strike.

How quickly each show can go back to production depends on the condition of the scripts started before the strike. The prep time needed is said to be two weeks for multicamera comedies and four weeks for more elaborate productions.

However, networks are not expected to ask every series to produce more episodes this season, which doesn't necessarily mean that those shows will be automatically canceled.

"Each network needs to decide what shows it needs for the rest of the season," one network executive said.

Some freshman and bubble series and heavily serialized dramas may not do more original episodes this season but would get pickups for next fall to give the creative team time to work on them, some sources said. Among the series rumored to possibly resume production in the summer are NBC's serialized hit "Heroes," which could do an extended run next season, and ABC's promising freshman "Pushing Daisies."

However, others cautioned that the networks may want to get more episodes of all of their series in the can as a contingency in case of a SAG strike in the summer.

Fox's "24" is among the shows expected to go back to production first. Despite the fact that the real-time drama won't air new episodes this season, it will ramp up production quickly to avoid losing some of the actors needed for the entire 24-episode arc whose options will be up soon.

Also expected to resume production quickly are ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," "Lost," "Desperate Housewives" and "Brothers & Sisters"; CBS' "CSI" franchise, "Without a Trace" and "Cold Case"; and such multicamera comedies as CBS' "Two and a Half Men" and "The Big Bang Theory" and Fox's " 'Til Death."

NBC's "The Office" has a script ready to shoot as production on the episode, which was slated to film the first week of the strike, was shut down because star Steve Carell refused to cross the picket line.

The end of the strike also will bring resolution to low-rated freshman series whose future was put in limbo because of the strike. No orders are expected for new episodes of such series as ABC's "Big Shots," CBS' "Cane," NBC's "Journeyman" and Fox's "K-Ville," though some sources indicated the jury is still out on "Cane," which has several scripts ready.

Things are murkier on the development front. All broadcast networks except NBC terminated a portion of their development last month, citing lesser needs because of the strike. The broadcast networks can still opt for a truncated pilot season, but by the time the strike is over, they will be at a point where they will have normally ordered all their pilots. To get pilots up and running, the nets will have to rely heavily on first drafts since very few scripts had been delivered before the work stoppage.

A few pilots, including Fox's "The Oaks" and NBC's movie/backdoor pilot "Knight Rider," were filmed during the strike. Several more, including NBC's "The Man of Your Dreams" and Fox's dramas "The FBI" and "Saint of Circumstance," are slated to go into production shortly after the strike ends.

Additionally, studios are prepping pitches to go out as soon as the strike is over.

An imminent end to the strike would mean virtually no disruption of cable networks' scheduling plans.

Should the strike end in the next month or so, writing would start right away on TNT's "The Closer" and "Saving Grace," which would be back on track for their summer runs as originally scheduled.

As for USA, a spokesperson said that the network's summer programming also would remain pretty much intact if the strike ends over the next few weeks. Premiere dates for certain shows likely have to be pushed back but only by a few weeks.

With the second season of "The Tudors" wrapped, filming on "Brotherhood," "Dexter" and "Californication" not scheduled to begin until June and "Weeds" in production with a waiver for producer Lionsgate, Showtime's filming schedule also won't be affected.

Kimberly Nordyke in Los Angeles contributed to this report.