Scripted Series Could Be Back in Production by March, Networks Say
With the Writers Guild of America strike moving toward a potential conclusion, broadcast network programmers say they are confident they could have some scripted series back into production as early as March.
Any return to the air is contingent on a final agreement between the writers and the studios. Executives have previously gone on record anticipating that it would take four to six weeks before they could begin production on their A-list series, time needed by writers to craft scripts needed for the shows.
However, people close to a number of scripted series now say writers have been penning a number of episodes during the strike. Writers for two shows that air on NBC have already completed scripts, the sources said.
NBC Universal didn’t return calls seeking comment, but it’s unlikely writers would keep the studio apprised of their activity.
Network chiefs expect production for some shows, particularly sitcoms, to begin in as little as two or three weeks once the writers are officially back at work.
Under the WGA rules, writers are not supposed to work on scripts during the strike, so introducing the pages to production will be “touchy,” according to one writer.
A spokesman for the Writers Guild said he was not aware of any writers breaking the strike rules and thus was not able to comment.
The potential end of the writers strike would end the most serious labor action in Hollywood in 20 years and put thousands of idled production workers back on the job.
The dispute between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is the latest manifestation of the TV industry’s struggle to adapt to digital distribution technologies.
The negotiations have centered on how writers and media companies will split any advertising revenue generated by shows streamed on the Internet, a medium that’s growing in importance as more homes get high-speed Web access.
The two sides moved toward a compromise after the Directors Guild of America struck a deal with the studios that established a compensation scheme for streamed shows. That pact gave the writers and studios a template to work from.
The writers’ strike is expected to be resolved this week, according to TV network executives familiar with the situation. If the strike does end in coming days, it remains to be seen how many episodes various series will field. Network executives speaking off the record expect no fewer than five and no more than 10 episodes of most shows to be ordered.
Dramas are expected to draw smaller orders than comedies, because the sitcoms are easier to produce.
With scripts for some shows already in the can, executives at some networks hope to have their cornerstone series back on the airwaves in April, those sources said. That would give networks enough time to promote the series, and would give them enough episodes to run through the May sweeps ratings period and possibly into the summer.
Representatives for ABC, Fox, MyNet, the CW and CBS would not comment on post-strike plans. Representatives for NBC could not be reached for comment.
Should the deal currently on the table be ratified, the strike could end in time to keep the Academy Awards, one of broadcast TV’s biggest annual audience draws, on the air at ABC.
As of press time on Friday, the WGA leadership was hoping to wrap up drafting the language of the deal they've negotiated with the studios.
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