H'wood Writers Strike, TV Scrambles

The strike is on.

Members of the Writers Guild of America, the people responsible for writing the bulk of network television and movie scripts, dropped their pens at 12:01 a.m. today after failing to reach an agreement with the networks and studios over a new contract.

According to The Associated Press, the first picket lines are set to appear this morning at Rockefeller Center in New York, where NBC is headquartered. In Los Angeles, writers were planning to picket 14 studio locations in four-hour shifts from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day until a new deal is reached.

Writers and producers gathered for negotiations Sunday at the request of a federal mediator. The two sides met for nearly 11 hours before East Coast members of the writers union announced on their Web site that the strike had begun for their 4,000 members.

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The contract the WGA had with the major TV networks and movie studios expired Nov. 1. For months, the union has been negotiating with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over a new contract. But both sides are at odds over how much of a cut writers should get for online distribution of TV shows and movies, and talks fell apart Wednesday afternoon.

While a writers strike won't wallop the film industry — most movie studios have all the scripts they need for the next year — it could knock out TV. The WGA represents 12,000 writers — the people who make Jay Leno's jokes laughable and "24's" plotlines implausible. Without a contract, they're free to strike; without the writers, broadcasters can't put on the bulk of their prime-time, daytime and late-night programming.

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So whether you're an "Office" freak, a "Daily Show" junkie or a "General Hospital" fanatic, here's what the writers strike might mean for you.

Prime-Time TV

Prime-time TV on the broadcast networks — ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and the CW network — won't feel the effects of a strike immediately. "Prime-time TV programming won't change much until January," said Ben Grossman, the Los Angeles bureau chief of the trade publication Broadcasting and Cable.

That's because network producers have six to seven scripts banked, so if the writers decide to stop writing, they can still shoot episodes and keep their shows going for almost two months. But after that point, reality TV, game shows, repeats and newsmagazines will swoop in to take the place of scripted series.

And the programming might not be pretty. According to Thom Geier, senior editor for Entertainment Weekly, the reality shows tapped to fill prime-time hours include such fare as "Farmer Wants a Wife" and "My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad."

The networks could also drag already popular reality/competition shows onto more nights: That could mean extra episodes of "Dancing With the Stars" and four nights of "American Idol."

They may also look across the pond to England or north to Canada to poach programming from other English-speaking countries. "NBC is flirting with the idea of bringing in episodes of the original British 'Office' to replace new episodes of the American 'Office,'" Grossman said.

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