Sat, Nov 17, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Struggling shows see ray of hope in writer's strike


In the television business the grim reality of the writers' strike has set in, with the prospect of a long shutdown of scripted shows growing stronger by the day.

But in what seems to be growing consensus among executives at the TV networks, the strike could contain a faint glimmer of good news for one group of shows: struggling, barely surviving prime-time series.

"The strike definitely could be a good thing for some marginal shows," said Preston Beckman, the executive in charge of scheduling for the Fox network.

That theory was seconded by executives at the other networks and at several studios, most of whom asked for and were granted anonymity because of a code of silence about strike issues that is in place at the big production companies.

Very soon the networks will begin running low on original scripted episodes of shows; any new episode will become an increasingly valuable commodity. No network is going to waste bought-and-paid-for episodes. So the marginal shows will stay on until their episodes run out, which, in most cases, will mean sometime between now and the end of January.

The executives pointed to specific shows that might have been facing cancellation or at least trips to the hiatus shelf in previous television seasons. Now, thanks to the strike, these shows will surely get to run their full complement of episodes -- and perhaps win a shot at coming back next year.

In this group are first-season series like Journeyman and Life on NBC, K-ville and Back to You on Fox, Big Shots and Carpoolers on ABC and Cane on CBS.

Some holdover shows may also be affected for the better. Those possibilities include Friday Night Lights on NBC, Men in Trees on ABC, 'Til Death on Fox and Shark on CBS.


In other seasons, some shows like these, which have teetered on the ratings fence, might have been temporarily shelved or yanked off the air.

Now, as Beckman noted, "they're just going to be allowed to play out."

And as another senior network program executive put it, "We're going to get a little extra look at some of these shows, and maybe they'll help themselves."

A show like Friday Night Lights, for instance, with its high critical praise and low ratings, could get a chance to break through in January, when it is likely to be among the few fall series with some new episodes left. The show started production early and managed to complete 15 episodes before the strike.

In general, shows with self-contained stories may be deemed more viable, because they have a better chance to do well in repeats. CBS's schedule has so many crime dramas that repeat well, like CSI and NCIS, that it may be better off during the strike than its competitors.

ABC's regular lineup is dominated by serialized shows like Desperate Housewives that do not repeat well.

But that could benefit the one new crime drama ABC owns, Women's Murder Club. ABC could move that show off Friday, where its ratings have been marginal (it has a tryout Thursday night at 10), and see different results because most viewers haven't seen the episodes in first run.

In January the series that had been held in reserve will get their shots on the air, usually in limited runs. These include shows like Lost and Cashmere Mafia on ABC, The Sarah Connor Chronicles on Fox and Jericho on CBS. And some of these shows could do better than they would have otherwise, because by the time they get on, they would not have to face original episodes of shows like Grey's Anatomy and House. They would instead be facing either repeats or substitute programming like newsmagazines or reality shows.

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