Prolonged writers strike a nightmare for TV biz

Sun Dec 9, 2007 10:51pm EST
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By Paul J. Gough

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Television executives' nightmare scenarios for 2008 are coming closer to reality as the Hollywood writers strike enters its sixth week Monday.

Renewed contract talks between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP) broke off abruptly Friday, and industry executives see no end in sight to the worst Hollywood labor dispute in almost two decades.

The full effect of the strike will start to play across primetime in January. CBS, NBC and Fox have already outlined their first-quarter plans: midseason scripted shows, reality shows and judicious repeats. (ABC is expected to announce its strike-afflicted schedule early this week).

If the strike lasts another four to six weeks, it could spell the end for 2008 pilot production. The most-circulated scenario in that case involves the networks renewing all their existing series for next fall, producing their pilots in the summer and launching their new crop of shows in midseason 2009.

Such a disruption could imperil the annual "upfront" market in May, when the networks sell the bulk of their advertising slots for the next season. Uneasy ad buyers already are concerned about the expected audience erosion in the first and especially the second quarter.

"There's been a lag in primetime with the strike. No one has felt the impact of it for the first weeks," said Brad Adgate, senior vp research at New York-based ad buyer Horizon Media. "But (the networks) aren't putting their best foot forward (anymore). And the longer this thing is dragged out, the worse it's going to be in terms of scheduling."

One network executive said that it's tough to plan for something when you don't know how long you're going to be planning for.

"We have all kinds of programming we can reach for," the executive said. "I think the toughest part of planning for this is just the unknown. We don't know. Is this going to end in a week? Two weeks? A month? Two months? That's the toughest part."   Continued...

<p>Members of the Writer's Guild walk the picket line on 6th Avenue near the headquarters of HBO in New York, December 6, 2007. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid</p>