NYT
December 9, 2007
You Couldn¹t Write This Stuff: TV Reality Sets In
By EDWARD WYATT
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 8 ‹ Each year television viewers emerge in January from the traditional December blizzard of holiday specials and college football bowl games seeking new comforts from their favorite comedies and dramas, shows like ³Grey¹s Anatomy,² ³Two and a Half Men² and ³House.²
Come January, however, they are more likely to be left to joust with the real-life ³American Gladiators.²
As a result of the now monthlong strike by the Writers Guild of America, almost none of the most popular shows on prime time television will be offering new episodes to viewers after the first of the year, or for the foreseeable future.
In their place on the networks¹ schedules will be repeats or reality programs, some of them returning but many of them new ‹ shows like ³The Moment of Truth,² a Fox offering in which contestants are strapped to a lie detector and asked about their most intimate secrets on a national stage.
The flood of reality programming will be the first repercussion that many Americans will see in prime time from the writers¹ strike, an event that has drawn relatively little concern beyond Hollywood and Manhattan. But the strike looks likely to continue; talks between the writers and Hollywood studios collapsed Friday, with the sides still deeply divided. While late-night talk shows were almost immediately forced into reruns because of the strike, those shows draw a small fraction of the 40 million viewers who tune in to the prime-time offerings of the four major networks each weeknight.
The strike-fueled growth in reality programming also has the potential to change the face of prime-time television for years to come. Reality programs generally do not employ union-represented writers. While the most popular dramas and comedies will resume production of new episodes once the strike ends, the strike could mean the end for several new series, like ³Bionic Woman² on NBC or ³K-Ville² on Fox, that have struggled to gain a regular audience this fall. Just as the last writers¹ strike, in 1988, helped to spawn a new form of vérité entertainment epitomized by programs like ³Cops² and ³America¹s Most Wanted,² the current writers¹ strike will witness the debut of a number of new reality concepts.
³The Moment of Truth² is but one of as many as 27 hours a week of reality programming that the broadcast networks are planning for the first quarter of 2008, according to schedules released in recent weeks and interviews with network officials.
That appears to be the most ever for the relatively young reality genre and represents roughly a 50 percent increase from the 18 to 19 hours of reality programming that the networks have scheduled in recent seasons. Vince Manze, president of program planning, scheduling and strategy at NBC, said the volume of reality on the schedule next year would be greater than usual. ³Certainly some of it is strike-related,² Mr. Manze said. ³But part of it is not. We always put reality on in the first quarter,² when shows like ³Heroes² go on a brief hiatus, although he acknowledged that the volume of reality on the schedule for early next year was greater than usual.
Among the new reality offerings is ³Oprah¹s Big Give,² a contest on ABC sponsored by Oprah Winfrey to see who can give away large sums of money to society¹s greatest benefit. ABC has long planned to have the series premiere in early 2008, but its potential effect on the network¹s ratings is now more important than ever, given that the network¹s most successful shows will be appearing in reruns.
At the other end of the spectrum is ³American Gladiators² on NBC, a revival of a late-1980s competition that pits contestants against professional athletes in feats of strength, and ³When Women Rule the World,² a Fox series that features male contestants trying to survive in an environment ruled by women.Not all of the comedies and dramas in prime time will be repeats. Some returning series have long been scheduled to resume their run after the first of the year, including ³Lost² on ABC and ³Medium² on NBC. Some new series also had been set for premieres in January, including ³Eli Stone² on ABC and ³Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles² on Fox. In addition, some continuing series have one or more individual episodes remaining, including most of the police dramas on CBS.

The deluge of new reality programming has become necessary because, in the weeks since the members of the Writers Guild of America stopped working on Nov. 5, nearly all comedy and drama series have shut down production for lack of new scripts. The writers are seeking a deal that will give them a share of the profits derived from the use of their material on the Internet and in other electronic media. The networks are now using the strike as an opportunity to fill their schedules with less-expensive reality programming.

Leslie Moonves, the chief executive of CBS, said as much at an investor conference last Tuesday. ³We have added a number of reality programs to February,² Mr. Moonves said. ³We have a lot of terrific plans, and ratings probably will not be as high without the influx of all of our great original programming. But by the same token, costs will be down considerably.² Laurie Ouellette, an associate professor of communications studies at the University of Minnesota, said that after growing steadily in the first half of the decade, the amount of prime-time programming devoted to reality shows had remained relatively flat since 2005.

That was thanks in part to the emergence of a new crop of popular dramas, including ³House,² ³Desperate Housewives² and ³Criminal Minds.² ³But many of those programs are going to be in hiatus because of the strike,² Ms. Ouellette said. ³And the networks are responding to the need to come up with shows that are a cost-effective solution to that problem.²
Reality shows, which generally cost $1 million per hour to produce, are far less expensive than most prime-time dramas, which can cost $2 million to $3 million per episode.
CBS is in many ways responsible for the recent growth of reality programming. After the initial success in 2000 of ³Survivor,² the network¹s groundbreaking castaway competition, the amount of reality programming in prime time grew steadily, from about 4 hours in 2000 to roughly 18 hours in 2005.
After the first of the year, CBS will double, at least, the amount of reality programming on its schedule, to four hours from two this fall, including another installment of ³Survivor,² the game show ³Power of 10² and three hours of ³Big Brother.² NBC will nearly double its amount of reality programming, to seven hours from four. The network has scheduled one of two hourlong installments of ³Deal or No Deal² in the Monday hour formerly devoted to ³Heroes² and given over the slot normally filled by ³The Office² and ³Scrubs² to a celebrity version of ³The Apprentice.² And ABC, which has yet to announce formally details of its schedule for the new year, could significantly increase its reality programming from the five to six hours it has run this fall.
The network is expected to bring back ³Wife Swap² and ³Supernanny,² schedule new editions of ³Dancing With the Stars² and ³The Bachelor² beginning in March, and add new series, including two more dance competitions. The ABC shows could account for as much as 11 hours of weekly programming, although it is unlikely that the network will schedule all of those shows concurrently. Fox, which schedules only 15 hours of prime-time programming per week, compared with 22 hours each for the other three networks, is keeping its total level of reality programming about steady at seven hours.
The biggest part of that will go to ³American Idol,² the most-watched series on television, which accounts for two hours a week of Fox¹s schedule.

"Anybody can direct. There are only 11 good writers." ‹ Mel Brooks
1 2
As a result of the now monthlong strike by the Writers Guild of America, almost none of the most popular shows on prime time television will be offering new episodes to viewers after the first of the year, or for the foreseeable future.

Pretending I've bben living in a cave for 3 years, what's the strike about?

All the best,
Mark.
Pretending I've bben living in a cave for 3 years, what's the strike about?

Money. Respect.
Alan Brooks

A with an Underwood
Nookie.
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As a result of the now monthlong strike by the ... the first of the year, or for the foreseeable future.

Pretending I've bben living in a cave for 3 years, what's the strike about?

Why not look it up for yourself? Go to the guild's web site or search Google News.

"Anybody can direct. There are only 11 good writers." ‹ Mel Brooks
Pretending I've bben living in a cave for 3 years, what's the strike about?

Money.

Uh-huh. Okay.
Respect.

Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

"Anybody can direct. There are only 11 good writers." Mel Brooks
Money. Respect.

Sure, I figured that Money would be part of the equation, but what's brought this on all of a sudden? I visited the wga's site as MC suggested, but couldn't find a summary.

All the best,
Mark.
Site Hint: Check out our list of pronunciation videos.
Money. Respect.

Sure, I figured that Money would be part of the equation, but what's brought this on all of a sudden? I visited the wga's site as MC suggested, but couldn't find a summary.

All the best,
Mark.
Money. Respect.

Sure, I figured that Money would be part of the equation, but what's brought this on all of a sudden? I visited the wga's site as MC suggested, but couldn't find a summary.

It was an order from the Prime Directive on the Planet Dictoid. Surely you're familiar with that.
Money. Respect.

Sure, I figured that Money would be part of the equation, but what's brought this on all of a sudden? I visited the wga's site as MC suggested, but couldn't find a summary.

Well, seriously, what brought it on was the expiration of the previous contract, and an awareness of inequities in the previous contract that are becoming more and more extreme as sources of revenue shift from traditional distribution channels to new media.
As this inequity grows, the existing compensation formulas distribute an increasingly small sum of money to the writers. The most obvious example is best described in Bill Rabkin's blog post (he just posted it here a week or so ago): the writer makes money from re-broadcasts of shows they write, but they make almost nothing from DVD sales. As studios have shifted from re-broadcasting to issuing boxed DVD sets of television shows, writers' compensations have been decimated even while studios continue to reap profit from the work.
Simply put, writers get stuck with compensation based on a contract written under certain distribution and market conditions. Studios, producers and production houses can shift with the times, chasing the money as they will, but writers remain stuck with whatever deal was brokered under market conditions that change at an increasingly fast rate.

Alan Brooks

A with an Underwood
The more things change,
the more they change.
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