The writers’ strike enters its sixth week today, and with no end in sight, industry suits are warning that the talks could overhaul long-standing traditions in television. More game shows and reality shenanigans will take over the airwaves, leaving scripted episodes on the shelf until writers return. Pilot season and the yearly “upfront” presentations are also on the chopping block.
“There’s a huge transition in our business,” Steven Bochco, creator of L.A. Law and NYPD Blue, told the Wall Street Journal. “This may hasten the demise of the model that we’ve all worked under.”
Indeed, network executives say the strike could be the trigger needed to change many of the industry’s arcane and expensive practices. Among them: the pilot season.
Beginning each January, the networks approve production of more than 60 pilot versions of TV shows, which are cast and produced in a matter of weeks so they can be ready in May, in time to be considered for the networks’ fall seasons. The pilots can cost several millions of dollars apiece to make, and many never see the light of day.
TV production studios have already been moving toward more year-round program development, shooting pilots at other times of the year as a way to sidestep the costly race for talent that occurs during pilot season and to lavish more time and attention on their shows.
The networks are also likely to revisit the “upfront” model of selling advertising. Each May, the networks put on expensive presentations to advertisers of the new shows they plan to air in the fall. The networks have long questioned that model, but none of them wanted to be the first to drop out.
At a media conference in New York last week, Jeff Zucker, president and chief executive of General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal unit, suggested that, in the event of a prolonged strike, a similar ad-sales period might still make sense but perhaps not a “grand presentation” in the spring. “I don’t think there is any rule that says we have to do it that way,” he said.