One place where audiences likely won't see any change in prime-time programming: cable, both basic and premium. According to Geier, scripted series on networks like FX, Showtime and HBO will probably go on as planned, because they tend to film their seasons well in advance. And reality shows on network TV and cable will not be affected because they don't employ WGA writers. So if you can't have "Gossip Girl," at least you've got "The Hills."
With the writers on strike, late-night laughs might become as elusive as a good night's sleep. "Late night will disappear almost immediately," Geier said. "In the last strike, in 1988, 'Jay Leno' and 'Letterman' stopped almost right away. That will also be true with the 'Daily Show' and 'Stephen Colbert.'"
That's because the late-night shows, including "Saturday Night Live," are often scripted the day they air, the better to get in those topical jabs at the '08 candidates and Britney Spears. In place of new material from the late-night comics, Geier said the networks will likely run repeats and movies.
A writers' strike could all but wash soap operas down the drain. "Soap operas tend to be written pretty close to broadcast, so I can't imagine that they're going to last more than a few weeks," Geier said. "Plus, soap operas have really been taking a hit in terms of audience size. I imagine that a prolonged strike may in fact kill off some of those shows."
But according to Geier, daytime talk shows, unlike late-night TV, will probably go on. Because they're interview-heavy, a lack of writers won't slow down the ladies of "The View," Ellen DeGeneres or the almighty Oprah.
The 1988 writers strike lasted 22 weeks. It was catastrophic: It cost the industry an estimated $500 million and the broadcast networks saw a 9 percent to 10 percent drop in their audience as viewers switched over to cable. Industry insiders predict the effects of a strike now could be just as bad.
New shows and new networks like CW, which launched in 2006, stand to lose the most. "This would be a challenge for the new series that are catching on," Geier said. "It's like being the new kid in school. If the new kid in school goes away for the winter, it's going to be hard for him to get a date to the prom in May."
Not only will a writers strike disrupt the 2007-2008 season, it might also affect next year's TV programming. Audiences might have to wait months for the trysts of "Desperate Housewives" and twists of "Law & Order" to be resolved.
"Depending on how long the strike goes, it could affect the 2008-2009 season. If this is a 22-week strike, it will interfere with next season," said L.A. Weekly columnist Nikki Finke.
And like "Desperate Housewives'" hunk John Rowland, who came back to Wisteria Lane only to discover that Gabrielle had found a new man, once the writers and networks reconcile, they may find that audiences aren't as enamored with their shows as they once were.
"This entire town is waiting to see what happens," Grossman said. "This couldn't come at a worse time for TV."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.