THE BLOG
12/20/2007 02:18 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Are TV Producers Using the Writers' Strike to Reboot the Industry?

One thing I've noticed about the impact so far of the Hollywood writer's strike: many of the things it's eliminating are institutions the big TV producers wanted to see gone, anyway.

Networks often complained about the winter TV press tour, the smaller January version of the big summer gathering in which the TV industry trots out previews of its midseason shows to journalists. Critics liked it because it got us to Los Angeles when shows were in production; networks hated it because it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars that they wanted to spend elsewhere.

Now it's gone this year, killed by uncertainty over whether big actors would cross WGA picketlines for press conferences and the networks' unwillingness to spend big money in the middle of a strike. How much do you want to bet bringing it back post-strike will be a seriously uphill battle?

Another institution the TV producers hated: pilot season. At price tags of more than $2 million each, production companies might assemble over 100 pilot episodes for potential series for all the networks. Given that the total number of new network TV shows usually amounts to about 35 to 40 programs each fall -- and studios must eat the costs of every pilot the network doesn't buy as a series -- it's easy to see why producers might not mind if the strike stretched into February, taking a big bite out of the season.

TV pilots are generally approved for production and cast early in the year, January and February, filmed in March and April and purchased by the networks in fall. With writers unable to finish or polish scripts, a strike lasting into March could end the practice of all networks making their pilots at the same time -- a timetable producers have often said was concocted by agents trying to increase competition for actors' and writers' services, anyway.

The final institution TV producers have always hated: the upfront presentations. Once again, these are glitzy, expensive displays -- this time, put together for the benefit of advertisers who are purchasing spots early in a selling season called the "upfronts." Obviously, if a strike scuttles the pilot season, networks won't have to spend money on presentations since there will be few new scripted shows.

Producers seem to be using the strike to reboot the TV industry and slough off practices they've long wanted to eliminate. And they're settled in for a long haul, boasting January schedules packed with reality and stockpiled scripted series. Some of these post-strike changes might make for better programming, but most will just make it easier for them to make more money.

Personally, I was hoping the strike might eliminate at least one tiresome awards ceremony, the People's Choice Awards. But even as CBS has said reports of its cancellation are exaggerated, I remain hopeful the Writer's Guild will shut it all down with a picket line aggressive enough to shame even Jamie Lynn Spears from crossing.