STRUCK DUMB: WHAT NOW, SMART GUYS? Negotiations between the striking Hollywood writers and the studios and networks must be going badly, because the big three are already making serious plans to fill the airtime vacated by shows whose final scripts have been shot or aired. Rumours that Canadian shows such as Intelligence might have been given a shot at the big leagues were cruelly crushed a couple of weeks ago, though it looks like the largely arbitrary “summer season,” which is generally regarded as cable’s chance to shine while network’s lights are burning a bit dimmer, will be colonized by regular season shows once they go back into production, according to at TV Week story.
“The season is only a Nielsen construct," Jeff Bader, ABC’s executive VP of scheduling, told the magazine. "We sell 52 weeks a year."
The networks insist that running shows into the summer will be made on a case-by-case basis, based on criteria like how many episodes have aired, how many remain in a season order, and whether storylines are serialized or not. Shows such as The Office and My Name Is Earl will face a production crunch to fulfill the balance of their season order, even if the strike is ended by year’s end – the longer the writers remain on the picket lines might affect how much work some of them will come back to once a settlement is reached.
Conventional logic in the industry would likely mean substantially shortened seasons, and Vince Manze, NBC’s president of program planning, scheduling and strategy says that “you can’t go too far into summer. The [viewing levels drop], once you start running into the Fourth of July.”
Network executives and media buyers downplayed the effect sprawling into summer would have on cable programming, of course – “I think it would be good for television, versus bad for cable. I think overall television would be the winner,” said Andy Donchin, director of broadcast for ad buyer Carat – while cable is feeling a bit more threatened. “If they’re going to be running in the summer, that’s going to impose on cable’s season," said one unnamed cable executive. "That’s why we started doing our originals there to begin with.”
CBS president Les Moonves, who admitted that he was “not terribly optimistic” about a resolution to the strike, went one step further with an announcement in Broadcasting & Cable magazine that the network would be poaching shows from Showtime, its premium cable sibling, though he wouldn’t say which ones. As for the strike, Moonves expressed a CEO’s upbeat and impeccable if slightly bloodless logic – ratings were down, sure, but they weren’t spending much money on programming, so it all balanced out. “In terms of financial future, in the near-term and midterm, it will not affect us at all,” said Moonves, as a mysterious smell of sulphur filled the room.