Getting Shows Back on Track: 10 Questions and Answers

A: Even with a quick settlement, the traditional September premiere week will look different. "It's likely there will be fewer new shows, the rollout will be scattered and, ideally, the success rate will be higher," says John Rash, ad-buying chief at ad agency Campbell Mithun in Minneapolis.

The traditional winter development season -- in which new-series ideas are pitched, written and sold -- was hobbled by the strike, but the settlement prevents a complete wipeout. Still, the number of holdovers from this season will limit the number of new shows this fall.

Some say fewer higher-profile pilots will have a better chance of standing out, such as sci-fi dramas Fringe, starring Joshua Jackson, a potential Fox series from producer J.J. Abrams; and Eleventh Hour, a Jerry Bruckheimer drama for CBS. But fewer choices will reduce the margin for error in a failure-prone business.

Q: Will there be more reality series and less scripted fare?

A: Probably yes, but TV was moving in that direction anyway, as part of a move to cut costs and boost profits by reducing the amount of expensive scripted programming. NBC has been more successful with shows such as Deal or No Deal and Biggest Loser than with scripted series. American Idol has been TV's top show for six years, and Survivor remains an enduring hit.

Scripted series won't fade away, because they help define networks, bring in higher ad rates and lure a wider swath of the TV audience. "There are a significant amount of viewers who are 'reality rejectors,' who don't want that genre," especially men, Rash says. "Losing them, even temporarily, is a setback."

But the reality shows stockpiled during the strike (hello, Big Brother!) will be more prevalent until sitcoms and dramas get back on track.

Q: Will the strike have long-lasting effects on the TV business?

A: Impossible to say. Networks are talking tough now, vowing permanent changes in the way they develop, schedule and market series, in ways that viewers won't often recognize.

At an industry conference last month, NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker said "broadcast networks can no longer spend tens of millions of dollars every year creating dozens of pilots that will never see the light of day," and vowed to sharply reduce the use of prototype episodes. NBC already has experimented with ordering series based on promising scripts.

And studios already used the strike to trigger escape clauses in contracts with unproductive writer/producers not attached to current or planned series, canceling development deals that will save them millions.

But Hollywood is a town steeped in ritual, and actors, directors, talent agents and crewmembers also thrive on the showbiz economy. So it remains to be seen how lasting these changes will prove.

Q: What happens to movies derailed by the strike?

A: Behind the scenes, movie studios aren't sure about the answer to this, either. A number of high-profile films -- Johnny Depp's Shantaram, the superhero-filled Justice League of America and Tom Hanks' Da Vinci Code prequel Angels & Demons -- are among the sidetracked projects.

What will it take to get these films back on track? Sony Pictures still hopes Angels & Demons remains on target for May 2009 and expects to resume work on the script ASAP. Balancing the schedules of the stars is always the biggest question -- will they decide to leap to another project? Competition for the biggest names will be fierce once work resumes.

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