With the resumption of talks between the Writers Guild of America, West, and studio chiefs, there is cautious optimism in Hollywood that the writers' strike, which began on Nov. 5, may end within the next few weeks. If it does, the annual Academy Awards telecast will be able to proceed as normal.
But what about new episodes of viewer favorites that are either missing from the schedule or in reruns? There's no single answer. Executives at most of the broadcast networks say if the strike ends soon enough - mid-March at the latest - they plan to hurry back into production to get new episodes of some prime-time shows on the air in time for May sweeps. But it's also expected that they will take a hard look at their schedules and order new episodes on a case-by-case basis.
Proven hits likely will get an immediate green light, but shows that had marginal ratings before the strike simply may be discarded. Others may wait until fall to relaunch.
So how long will it take, once the strike ends, for new episodes of old favorites to start airing? That will vary on a show-by-show basis. One network executive suggested it could take as long as 10 weeks but others in the industry say some shows could begin airing new episodes in four to six weeks.
Traditional sitcoms (Back to You, for instance) likely will be back in business most quickly. A multicamera sitcom filmed in front of a studio audience could return to production in one or two weeks if there are half-completed scripts written prestrike that just need the usual production-week revisions.
Drama series will be all over the map, depending on where they were in production when the strike began. Are there nearly completed scripts just waiting for rewrites, or will writers start with blank pages? It probably differs from show to show, meaning the time it takes to get back into active production could range from two to four weeks. Viewers would begin seeing new episodes a month later at the earliest. Six weeks is more likely.
Some writers already are back to work after the independent production companies they work for signed interim agreements with the WGA. The writing staff for AMC's period drama Mad Men, produced by the indie Lionsgate, returned to work on Jan. 28.
Although no air date for the show's second season has been set, Mad Men will likely return to the air in mid-to-late summer.
In the meantime, scripted programming continues to premiere during this February sweeps month along with more reality shows.
New shows and new episodes of old shows include:
• Disney Channel's Phineas and Ferb, which began at 8 p.m. Friday. The animated comedy chronicles the adventures of two stepbrothers on summer vacation. It is scheduled at 8 p.m. nightly through February,
•CBS's Welcome to the Captain, which starts at 8:30 tonight. It follows the travails of an aspiring Hollywood writer/director who moves into an apartment building called The Captain.
•CBS's The New Adventures of Old Christine returns at 9:30 tonight with Christine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) preparing to consummate a relationship while her brother rethinks med school.
•Sundance Channel's Pleasure for Sale, at 11 tonight, documents the lives of prostitutes who work in a licensed Nevada brothel.
•My Network TV's Paradise Hotel 2, at 9 tonight, is a sequel to a Fox reality flop from a few years ago. It confines a new group of horny, attractive people in a luxury cliff-side hotel.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen is the TV editor for the Post-Gazette.
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