Writer’s strike

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By Kai Parker

(Illustration by Billy Gedney)

By Kai Parker

About a month into the writer’s strike, it seems unlikely to be resolved until early next year, and TV fans are already feeling the blow to this year’s TV season.

“Heroes” and “The Office” will be airing their final episodes about now. “Lost” will only be airing half of a scheduled season, and fans of “24” will probably have to wait until Jan. of 2009 to see the seventh day in the life of Jack Bauer.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Somewhere around 50 TV shows have halted production.

So far, neither side has shown much willingness to budge on their separate positions.

The studios, not wanting to seem vulnerable, are proceeding as though the strike is only an annoyance, promising to air more reality TV shows and game shows as well as planning to air several pilots or new shows that were filmed over the summer in direct anticipation of the strike.

ABC, for example, has filmed an entire season of a new sitcom featuring Cedric The Entertainer that it will air in the spring.

The CW’s “Everybody Hates Chris” also completed its entire season order before the strike took effect.

NBC is boasting that they have at least half a dozen pilots for different shows ready to be shot, and will be aired at different times through the spring.

Even with these shows, most projects in development will still have to wait for the end of the strike to even begin production, the same with any pilots that the studios might want to pick up.

There are other signs that the studios are being hit harder than they are admitting.

NBC has already pulled out of the semiannual Television Critics Association press tour, where networks typically showcase previews of their upcoming seasons.

ABC and Fox are still on the fence about whether or not to attend the event, which can cost a network well in the range of $500,000 for a single daylong showing.

With most of the late night talk shows already shut down, studios are also losing ad time and revenue they normally receive on their big budget films.

Studios can’t put a headlining actor on Leno or Letterman, and with ratings for repeats on late night shows generally abysmal, advertisments that generally air during commercials for these shows are not being seen as widely as they usually would. This has led to several studios trying to bring back some of the late night programs despite the strike and simply having them skip their regular monologues or skits in favor of additional interviews. This happened during the writers strike in 1988.

It’s not just the studios that stand to lose money either.

The 1988 strike cost the industry roughly $500 Million, and that figure would likely leap to around $1 Billion if it reached a similar duration today, and more than just Hollywood jobs would be affected.

Hotels, restaurants, catering businesses, would all be affected, not to mention electricians, camera operators and other blue-collar crews who are unable to work during the strike.

In all, there are an estimated 250,000 jobs directly tied to the industry as opposed 69,000 during the 1988 strike.

Combine this with the recent wildfires and the falling housing markets, things aren’t looking good for California’s economy.

This concern has prompted comments from L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Governor Schwarzenegger, who have pledged efforts to help end the strike as soon as possible.

One former studio executive said he worried that a prolonged TV strike might drive viewers away, similar to the way baseball lost several fans after returning from its labor dispute in 1994.

So far, however, public support seems to be favoring the strike.

A recent poll in USA Today, showed the public at roughly 63% in favor of the writers. So what’s likely to happen next?

As shows have shut down, jobs are going with them -including actors and production staff.

This prompted the first set of talks, which began on Nov. 26, and both sides have agreed to a news blackout during the talks -no press statements or details will be released during the new set of negotiations.

This has led to rampant speculation, with some saying the new talks are only a PR move by both sides hoping to save face and maintain support. There has also been speculation, however, that both sides may have already reached a tentative deal that may be signed sometime around Christmas.

If this were to happen, some TV shows would be able to continue production, but we will almost certainly see shortened seasons. There are many in the industry, however, that are simply glad the two sides are talking again.

If a deal cannot be reached, it could spell even bigger trouble come June 30, when a possible Directors strike could begin.

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