Former ‘SVU’ Showrunner Outlines Path to Salvage 13-Episode Seasons if WGA Strike Ends Before October

If SAG-AFTRA’s strike ends by the end of next month, network TV may have a chance at new episodes

Members and supporters of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA picket on day 100 of the WGA strike outside Netflix and Warner Bros. on August 9, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

The dream of new episodes of network television in 2023 is not entirely dead, at least not according to former “Law and Order: SVU” showrunner Warren Leight. As negotiations between the striking WGA and the AMPTP continue, Leight outlined a way 13-episode seasons of network television “could still be saved.”

It’s too late for new episodes of most scripted series to debut on network television by the end of the year. But it may be possible for new episodes to debut in early 2024. According to Leight, the hope of a 13-episode season comes down to the WGA and the AMPTP reaching an agreement by the end of September, as well as the AMPTP and SAG-AFTRA reaching an agreement by the end of October.

“Writers — once hired — would need less than the normal five or six weeks of lead time to start the season, since they’d ‘only’ be doing 13 episodes,” Leight wrote. He went on to say that if “everybody agreed” to having one week off for the Christmas break rather than the traditional two weeks of unpaid leave, productions “might be able to get five eps shot before the new year.”

It would then be possible to shoot eight more episodes before late April, according to the showrunner’s estimates and experience. “Point is: it’s actually doable, which is perhaps one reason negotiations have finally started. Godspeed to all,” Leight wrote.

An insider familiar with NBC’s production schedule echoed Leight’s general sentiments, telling TheWrap that the hope is to get back up to production quickly and to get back on schedule as soon as possible once the strikes are resolved.

The ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes have undoubtably impacted all of film and television. However, when you’re talking about studios, no group has been more impacted than broadcast television. Scripted and unscripted series on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW are typically produced on tight annual timelines unlike cable or streamers, where it’s not uncommon to devote multiple years to a series’ development and production. As such, the big five are entering the fall season — historically, television’s time to show off new premieres and big returning shows — with schedules packed with reality shows, game shows, international acquisitions and series borrowed from their sister streamers.

In early August, the WGA surpassed the 100 day mark of its strike. As streaming services continue to thrive while they keep their viewership numbers close to vest, one of the sticking points in this ongoing strike has to do with a fairer residual structure for writers. The threat of AI and the use of mini-rooms also remain major points of contention.

The WGA and AMPTP resumed talks this week and will continue to negotiate on Friday after what insiders told TheWrap was “significant progress” during negotiations on Thursday.