LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Production on all but two of the last few scripted prime-time television shows shooting in Los Angeles ground to a halt on Friday as a crippling strike by Hollywood writers neared the end of its sixth week, an industry group said.
The dwindling production tally reported by the nonprofit FilmL.A. Inc, which handles location permits for the industry, was the latest sign of mounting damage caused by the worst labor confrontation to hit major studios in 20 years.
The cost of the strike in terms of lost TV production spending in Southern California alone has reached about $135 million a week, and idled some 10,000 crew members, according to FilmL.A. President Steve MacDonald.
With work stopped on nearly all the five dozen dramas and comedies normally produced this time of year in the Los Angeles area, and the supply of new episodes rapidly running out, the networks are bracing for a programming upheaval in January.
Viewers, who have seen little change since the strike began, will soon be treated to an onslaught of reality shows and reruns broadcasters plan to use in place of scripted shows halted by the walkout.
That could lead to further ratings woes for the major networks, three of which have already been forced to compensate advertisers with extra commercial time due to a shortfall in viewership at the outset of the current season.
Programming and ad sales for the next TV season are also likely to take a hit as development of "pilot" episodes for new series and networks' annual "upfront" presentations for those shows to advertisers get scaled back or scrapped.
Even as the outlook for prime time grows more dire, late-night comedy may soon be back in business. Several show hosts, including NBC's Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien, are expected to return to work early next month, even if the strike is unsettled, after refusing for weeks to cross writers' picket lines, Daily Variety reported on Friday.
NBC declined to comment.
The Writers Guild of America launched its walkout on November 5 after months of contentious negotiations on a new contract covering 10,500 members collapsed. The main sticking point has been disagreement over how writers should be paid when their work is distributed over the Internet.
Talks resumed about two weeks later but broke off in acrimony again last Friday, with no further bargaining sessions scheduled.
While late-night TV took an immediate hit from the strike, work on prime-time series has slowed to a trickle.
By December, no more than 15 scripted shows remained in production, and just five were still being shot at the start of this week, according to FilmL.A., which has monitored the status of the shows through contacts with area production companies and studios, a spokesman said.
One of the last five, the CBS crime series "CSI: Miami," was shut down on Thursday, and two others, the new ABC ensemble drama "Dirty Sexy Money" and ABC's courtroom drama "Boston Legal," were set to wrap production on Friday.
That leaves two other series, both scheduled as midseason replacement shows for ABC, still in production -- "Eli Stone," which is slated to stop next Friday, and "October Road," due to close January 11, said FilmL.A.'s MacDonald.
So far, the movie business has been largely unhindered by the strike, though production on several high-profile films, including a sequel to "The Da Vinci Code," have been postponed.
MacDonald said that overall film production since the strike appears to have actually risen, as measured by the 129 location permits issued by FilmL.A. during the past six weeks, up from 89 issued during the same period a year ago.
He said the increase may be due to a speed-up in some film projects by studios in anticipation of additional labor strife next summer, when the actors' contract is due to expire.