Broadcast TV Faces a Ticking Clock as Strike Grinds On

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The window to produce shortened seasons of popular scripted shows for midseason dwindles as AMPTP and WGA talks turn contentious

Writers on strike
The writers' strike could affect advertisers' plans for the fall. (Image: Christopher T. Smith/TheWrap, Getty Images)

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As Hollywood chiefs lumber their way through labor negotiations, the broadcast networks under their purview face an increasingly tight deadline to get production of their scripted programming up and running in time to air in early 2024. Given the rocky restart of contract talks between the AMPTP and WGA, hope for timely resolution is quickly dwindling.

Insiders who spoke to TheWrap offered a variety of scenarios on how quickly filming could pick back up — all depending on just how long it takes for any resolution to Hollywood’s historic double strike to emerge. Many pointed to September as a crucial deadline for deals with the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA to get done so new and returning scripted shows can produce even truncated seasons that could premiere early next year.

While some have suggested that an agreement would need to be reached as early as Labor Day weekend, one individual familiar with scripted broadcast TV production told TheWrap that the end of September would be a firmer deadline.

How fast could shows return to work?

Getting shows ready in time for air would vary depending on where the projects were in the production process when the work stoppage began. Series that were already in production and stopped at the onset of the strikes might get rolling again more quickly, given the availability of cast and crew. Shows not yet in production or that were scheduled to kick off during the span of the strike face a longer road back, an individual with knowledge of studio operations told TheWrap.

“In a perfect world, the networks have banked a number of scripts before the strike and they’re writing the moment the strike’s over to bank as many as possible so that they can just be in continuous production and continuous post-production,” one broadcast television insider told TheWrap. “What matters these days with networks is that they’re not interrupted, that they can roll out six episodes, eight episodes, 13 episodes in a row.”

The insider noted that typical production schedules for a half-hour series could be five to seven days per episode, while an hourlong series could take eight to 10 days per episode. Once a show wraps production, the minimum turnaround from that point to get a show to air could be six weeks for a half-hour series and 10 to 12 weeks for an hour series. Procedural shows like “Law and Order” and “NCIS” would have a faster turnaround due to lower post-production demands.

Late-night shows, which were the first to be interrupted by the strikes, could be up and running in as little as two weeks.

With this in mind, the knowledgeable individual said, companies are putting together scenarios on the most efficient ways to get shows back to work, based on estimated timing of a potential resolution to the strikes.

Networks have options — and limits

In the event that the strikes extend into the fall, networks’ options for scripted programming grow more limited.

“The only thing networks can do is either show acquired content that American audiences haven’t been exposed to or repurpose some old show in some unique fashion,” former NBC Studios president Tom Nunan said.

Some networks turned to those alternatives for their soon-to-debut fall 2023 schedules. The CW set Canadian imports “Sullivan’s Crossing” and “The Spencer Sisters” among its upcoming shows. CBS is borrowing reruns of “Yellowstone” from its sibling Paramount Network.

Kevin Costner, Yellowstone (Paramount+)
A still from “Yellowstone.” (Paramount Network)

Unscripted programming and sports has also helped fill out schedules.

As for which of the currently halted broadcast shows could get canceled from the extended pause, Nunan said new series are at the “greatest risk, and then it just moves up the food chain from there.”

NBC, which boasts two original scripted shows on its fall lineup, “The Irrational” and “Found,” would be able to air leftover episodes into 2024, along with new series like the upcoming comedy “Extended Family” starring Jon Cryer, and any other banked programming yet to be announced, an NBC spokesperson told TheWrap.

Representatives for Fox, The CW, ABC, Paramount Television Studios and the WGA declined to comment. Representatives for AMPTP, CBS and Sony Pictures Television did not respond to requests for comment.

What comes after a deal

It all depends on the timing on the deal. While a WGA deal is hopefully being worked out currently, SAG-AFTRA is still waiting to get back to the negotiating table.

“We are ready, willing and able to bargain now,” SAG-AFTRA national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said in a statement to TheWrap. “The companies have refused to negotiate, and have told us they would not be willing to continue talks for quite some time. Their position is irresponsible.”

“The only way a strike comes to an end is through the parties talking,” he added. “We urge the AMPTP to return to the bargaining table and negotiate so that we can get our industry back to work as soon as possible.”

Once a deal is reached between AMPTP and both WGA and SAG-AFTRA, the guilds would each need time to distribute ballots to their members and vote on ratification, causing a bit of a lag between when production on these shows could formally resume.

For now, studios have been ramping up orders for unscripted programming, including shows that they previously passed on, Endeavor president and chief operating officer Mark Shapiro said during the company’s second quarter earnings call last month.

At the time, Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel predicted it would be months, not days, until the strike gets settled and things start back up.”

“When it ends, we do not know,” he told analysts. “It’s complicated… it’s not like any strike that’s happened in a long time. But it’s going to be months.”

“I think the sunniest scenarios would have network shows back in production in January,” Nunan said.

For all of TheWrap’s strike coverage, click here.