As writers' strike nears end, Hollywood assesses the damage
A tentative deal between screenwriters and studios comes in time to save some shows. Others will not survive.
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The probable end of the Hollywood writers' strike – almost certain now that the studios and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) reached a tentative agreement and, on Sunday, began their ratification process – has the creative community heaving a sigh of relief. But as writers prepare to crank up their dream machine, there is recognition that all will not be as it was before.
True, TV networks can salvage some of the season. Fall pilots can swing back into gear. New feature films can resume production. The Academy Awards telecast will probably go on as planned.
But the strike's long duration means some once-promising shows will not return, others may stumble, and not every writer will have a job to come back to. Network executives, for their part, are coming to grips with the fact that the money they saved on cheaper programming since Nov. 4, when the writers went on strike, was not worth the resulting loss in TV viewership.
"It's not all we wanted," says Ian Gurvitz, a scribe for the TV series "Becker," standing in front of the Shrine Auditorium Saturday night after an estimated 3,000 guild members inside gave their leadership several standing ovations in response to the new agreement. "But you have to think about how long you stay out."
A timely agreement
The tentative agreement comes in the nick of time, say some industry analysts.
"At least this way we can salvage a good pilot season so that the impact doesn't roll into next fall's programming," says Marc Berman, a TV analyst for Media Week magazine. But a resolution may come too late for some of this season's freshman shows that didn't get enough air time to establish a loyal audience and good, consistent ratings, he notes.
"Look at a show like [ABC's] 'Pushing Daisies' – every critic raved … – but it was losing a little bit of steam and now will anyone remember it anymore?" asks Mr. Berman. "They have to pick up the pieces and see if they can get back to business."
Industry analysts say sitcoms could return in four to six weeks; dramas will take a bit longer.
The most important sticking point of the strike was who profits from TV shows and movies played on the Internet, both first-run and secondary uses. In an e-mail sent to the guild membership, WGA leaders made clear they felt they had won a major victory.