Writers' strike reality is viewers' loss

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No matter what is at stake, strikes are always ugly. However, strikes in the entertainment industry don't just affect the families of those involved; they also change the day-to-day lives of the industry's audience (albeit to a much lesser degree).

Last night, the Writers Guild of America's negotiating committee announced its recommendation to strike, which all but sealed the deal for a work stoppage. The strike could start as soon as Monday.

Film studios will be hurt, but not in the same way the television industry will be. Movie scripts have been stockpiled for the last several months, which means that production on films can go on as planned.

On the other hand, television has a much smaller production window. For example, scripted shows taping right now could be seen next month or sooner.

Although the immediate effects won't be crushing, they will be evident. The first thing to be affected will be the late-night crew: Leno, Letterman, Conan, Stewart, and other shows produced daily will have to look for ways to fill their time in the absence of writers.

Most prime-time scripted shows have a bit of a buffer, given that they tend to have advanced episodes "in the can." Zachary Levi, star of NBC's Chuck, told TV.com yesterday that his show is currently shooting its 11th episode, which puts it five episodes ahead (episode six aired last Monday) of what's currently airing. Most primetime shows have about a month or two's worth of television set to go, but after that, networks may have to turn to their last resort...reality television.

The strike will also have a major impact on projects in the works. Excited for the new Joss Whedon show Dollhouse that was announced yesterday? Better hope the two sides can come to an agreement.

"There's a hiccup in [the production] process because of the writers' strike," Whedon told TVWeek a few days ago. "I will be good to go the moment we are in agreement with the studios. But I won't pick up a pencil while we're not."

Unscripted shows such as The Biggest Loser, Rock of Love, and Dancing With the Stars will serve as life preservers for the networks while writers keep their pens dry and laptops sealed shut. Several networks have been preparing for this, with "gems" such as the CW's Farmer Wants a Wife and Fox's Lie Detector ready in the wings. American Idol six days a week? Let's hope not, but it is a possibility.

The blackout may also see some cable shows fill in holes. For example, NBC may actually air programs from its slate of cable channels, such as Sci-Fi Channel or USA Network. Battlestar Galactica on NBC could happen, but it will be repeats.

Midseason shows may also get bumped up, particularly comedies like New Adventures of Old Christine or Miss/Guided. Midseason serialized shows, such Lost (rumored to be in production of its seventh episode) and 24, will likely stay put so the ongoing storylines aren't broken up. Of course, if they don't finish shooting their season because of the work stoppage, there's no telling how long things could be delayed.

But it isn't all bad for scripted TV. The second coming of Jericho, which has finished production on its entire seven-episode second season, could actually benefit with less competition.

Animated shows won't be hurt too badly, either, because they are often produced almost a year in advance. That means The Simpsons, Family Guy, and American Dad will go largely uninterrupted.

The last major writers' strike occurred in 1988 and lasted for 22 weeks.

For more on the writers strike, check out TV.com's Strike Source, featuring up-to-date statuses on shows, the latest information, and more.

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