Striking writers met over the weekend and, with a tentative agreement backed Sunday by union leaders, are poised to end their 14-week walkout. Even so, the lengthy strike means the gap that led to more repeats and reality will persist as production ramps up. What does it all mean? When will favorites return? USA TODAY's Gary Levin answers key questions.
Q: What happens next?
A: Writers Guild board members on Sunday urged the 10,500 striking members to ratify a new three-year agreement with the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers, a group negotiating on behalf of major studios. Members will vote Tuesday to suspend the strike pending ratification of the contract, and are expected to log onto their laptops Wednesday, 100 days after turning them off. (Executive producers of TV shows, however, can go back today.)
Q: How will TV reboot after the strike?
A: Most prime-time series will need six to eight weeks to write, produce and edit new episodes, but a handful of series (The Office, Two and a Half Men, Desperate Housewives) have one or two scripts nearly ready, which could shorten that time frame.
With few exceptions, most top series will come back between mid-April and early May and air four to six new episodes. Some networks want to keep shooting new shows, hoping to keep them on the air into June to help win back viewers, or store up extra episodes for late summer or fall, partly as insurance against a possible actors' strike June 30. That goal might be hampered because of budgeting problems or stars' film commitments. And serialized dramas will have a harder time for creative reasons.
NBC's Heroes will wait for fall, because of the expense and hurdles of filming a few episodes with a self-contained story. Fox's 24 will produce the remaining 16 episodes of its planned season this spring, to avoid losing options on its actors, but the drama won't return till next January.
"We have to have some kind of abbreviated wrap-up for some shows," says producer Greg Berlanti (Brothers & Sisters). "And for others we're going to have to create the beginning of a new season" in unexpected places. "It's challenging creatively, but it could also end up being inspiring."
But not all shows will return right away: Some newcomers that are neither hits nor flops, such as Pushing Daisies, Dirty Sexy Money, Chuck and Life, are expected to get new-episode orders but won't be back until fall.
Q: What about late-night talk shows?
A: Just as they were the first to shut down, late-night shows will feel the effects of a restart first, because jokes are written and delivered the same day the shows air. All the late-night shows returned in early January, and David Letterman and Craig Ferguson had their writers back, too, thanks to side deals with the writers' union.
Though some viewers may not have noticed the absence of writers for Leno, Conan or Jon Stewart, who have been writing their own jokes, the hosts have described the strain on air. And the shows have been unable to book top actors, who have stayed away in support of writers. With a settlement, they'll show up again.
NBC's Saturday Night Live, which has been dark since Nov. 3, is expected to resume new shows on Feb. 23.
Q: How will the strike affect fall?