Amid Writers Strike, Networks Try to Conserve Episodes

Fans are counting down the days -- and episodes -- until the Hollywood writers' strike puts the kibosh on their viewing schedules.

Comedies shut down production earlier than dramas, so many will exhaust their supply of fresh episodes by next week. The Office already aired its last original episode.

Now networks are struggling with the question of whether to run out their remaining stockpiles or conserve the few episodes that remain.

As the November "sweeps" ratings period winds down, "you may start to see some originals pulled to save a couple for January and beyond," says Fox scheduling chief Preston Beckman. That's the plan for Fox and CBS, anyway. But "at most they'll have three or four (episodes), if that many."

ABC intends to air remaining episodes as it would normally, regardless of the strike, which means new installments through early December and any leftovers in January.

Unscripted reality series, newsmagazines and midseason shows that began production early but haven't yet aired are exceptions to the rule. ABC's October Road returns for a second season Thursday, while comedy Notes From the Underbelly is due back Monday.

While Fox has indefinitely delayed 24, deciding against running a shortened season of the time-conscious thriller, ABC will go ahead with plans to air eight episodes of Lost, half the total promised, which will start in early February.

And Hollywood writers and producers agreed Friday that they will return to the bargaining table Monday, three weeks after talks broke down and picket lines went up in Los Angeles and New York.

In the most optimistic scenario, a quick settlement would return writers to work and a fresh batch of episodes would follow four to five weeks later, network executives say. If that happens, a normal schedule could resume by mid- to late January.

Meanwhile, CBS News writers -- also members of the Writers Guild of America -- have voted to authorize their own strike, although the union has not yet called one.

A look at the status of some fan favorites:

Heroes. Ends its shortened 11-episode season Dec. 3.

Grey's Anatomy. After a repeat Nov. 29, the surgery serial has one episode Dec. 13 and another in early January.

Prison Break. Was yanked Nov. 12 to conserve remaining episodes. Scheduled to resume Jan. 14, airing new episodes for five consecutive weeks as a lead-in to new Fox drama Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles.

House. Five episodes remain, including those scheduled to air tonight (9 ET/PT) and next week. Others will follow in mid-January and after the Super Bowl Jan. 27; the last is due shortly afterward.

Desperate Housewives. Wisteria Lane closes up shop after three more episodes, including one saved for January.

CSI. New episodes due Thanksgiving night and Dec. 6, with two more due early next year.

Back to You. Also pulled from the schedule; three remaining episodes are being saved for a new post-American Idol time slot starting March 12.

Gossip Girl. Continues through Dec. 12, takes a holiday break and airs two final installments Jan. 2 and 9, one week before the CW soap was due to face American Idol.

Brothers and Sisters. Five new episodes remain (the drama returns Sunday), which will take the show to mid-January.

The Office. Completed its originals; will be replaced by CelebrityApprentice starting Jan. 3.

Pushing Daisies. Pushes up three more installments, including those set for Wednesday (8 ET/PT) and next week (9 ET/PT).

Friday Night Lights. Last 2007 episode is due Dec. 7, but the series, well ahead in its production schedule, has six more for early next year.

Chuck. Completes its initial run Dec. 3. Two remaining episodes will be saved for sometime next year.

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