Without writers, TV loads up on reality, reruns

Tue Dec 11, 2007 10:55pm EST
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. television viewers looking to settle back into such favorite series as "Desperate Housewives," "CSI" and "The Office" will be in for a rude awakening after the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

Fresh episodes of those shows and many others will be replaced by a glut of reality programs and reruns headed to the major networks in January as the Hollywood writers strike comes home to roost in prime time after first hitting late-night TV.

The writers' walkout, now in its sixth week with no settlement in sight, has halted production on 50 to 60 scripted comedies and dramas, and the supply of new episodes is about to run dry.

Broadcasters are getting through December with traditional Christmas-season specials, TV movies and sports. But come January, the networks will begin scrambling to plug numerous strike-related programming holes.

The labor clash between major studios and writers could hardly come at a worse time for networks, as prime-time ratings are already down this season compared to a year ago.

"The networks are really going to feel the heat when the new year begins," said Marc Berman, senior editor for the trade publication Media Week. "And it's going to be a completely different experience for the viewer."

The new wave of reality TV shows includes the weekend warrior contest "American Gladiators" from NBC, philanthropic competition "Oprah's Big Give" on ABC; and two Fox entries -- the female-domination experiment "When Women Rule the World," and "The Moment of Truth," which hooks contestants to a lie detector and challenges them to answer embarrassing personal questions for cash.

Network executives say some of these shows were planned before the strike, which began on November 5. But many were fast-tracked in anticipation of a protracted labor dispute.   Continued...

<p>"American Idol" judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson in a file photo. Fox seems best positioned to weather the Hollywood writers strike thanks mostly to the annual return of its smash hit talent contest "American Idol," which debuts its seventh season in January. REUTERS/Chris Pizzello</p>