February 14, 2008 / 1:21 AM / 10 years ago

Strike-torn TV networks ramp up returning shows

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A day after Hollywood writers voted to end a strike that crippled the television industry, broadcast networks on Wednesday began ramping up to bring sidelined comedy and drama favorites back to prime time.

<p>File photo shows members of the Writers Guild of America carrying signs on the picket line at NBC studios in Burbank, California February 8, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>

CBS was first out of the block to announce its slate of returning shows, with plans to relaunch three Monday sitcoms -- “Two and a Half Men,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “How I Met Your Mother” -- on March 17.

That restart date will allow nine new episodes of each show to air before the current TV season runs out in late May.

By early April, CBS also will have restored its biggest dramas, including its three popular “CSI” detective shows, “Criminal Minds,” “Cold Case,” “Ghost Whisperer” and “Without a Trace,” the network said. Most of those will get six or seven weeks of original episodes before the season ends.

Hourlong dramas generally take longer to write and produce than half-hour comedies. The sitcoms alone will take a couple of weeks to be written and readied for shooting.

ABC’s acclaimed courtroom show “Boston Legal” is expected back in front of cameras next week, the first returning drama ready to resume taping, due to producer David E. Kelley having a script half-finished when the strike started on November 5.

“We’re fired up and ready to get back to work,” Kelley, known as one of the speedier TV writers in town, told Reuters.

But networks fear it may be hard to lure back viewers who drifted away to other entertainment outlets, like cable TV and the Internet, as a glut of reruns and reality shows swept prime time in recent weeks. Broadcast ratings on the whole were down even before the strike started.

“It’s going to take some time to get circulation back up,” one network executive told Reuters before the strike ended.

SERIALIZED SHOWS POSE DILEMMA

ABC faces a somewhat complex scheduling dilemma because several of its leading shows -- “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Ugly Betty” -- consist largely of serialized story lines rather self-contained episodes.

“We have to get people in a room and talk about where the story lines are going to go,” said a spokeswoman at the Disney-owned network said.

Network planning shifted into full swing a day after members of the Writers Guild of America voted almost unanimously to lift a 101-day strike against major film and TV studios, ending Hollywood’s worst labor clash in 20 years.

The film industry, which runs on a far longer production cycle, emerged from the strike in better shape. Movie studios were expected to resume work on several projects idled by the strike and launch others whose scripts are almost ready.

But filmmakers are wary of pushing too much into production for fear of running into another potential labor confrontation with the Screen Actors Guild, whose contract is up for renewal in June, leaving the focus for now on the broadcast industry.

There was no official word yet on NBC’s post-strike plans. But a network insider said the comedy bloc consisting of “The Office,” “My Name is Earl” and “30 Rock” would return to Thursdays in April, along with veteran medical drama “ER.”

But NBC’s serialized hit superhero drama “Heroes” is expected to remain off the air until fall, when it can be relaunched without interruption.

Another hit show known for its week-to-week cliffhangers, the Fox espionage thriller “24,” will likewise stay benched until January 2009, when all two dozen episodes can be run consecutively, Fox said.

News Corp-owned Fox, already flying high with its mega-hit talent contest “American Idol,” has otherwise kept its post-strike intentions quiet.

“Our schedule for the remainder of the season is pretty well set,” Fox spokesman Scott Grogin said. “There’s not a lot of holes to fill.”

One question hanging over the Fox schedule is the immediate fate of its popular hospital drama “House,” whose stockpile of original episodes just ran dry. The network must decide whether to crank out more fresh segments or wait to relaunch the series in the fall.

Editing by Dan Whitcomb

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