Picket lines formed bright and early outside the Today show studio this morning in New York, signaling the start of the long-dreaded WGA strike. Over on the West Coast, writers are planning to picket 14 studio locations starting at 9 a.m. today. This, after last-minute negotiations collapsed last night at the end of 10+ hours of talks.
So what does all this mean for us, the television viewer? The most immediate effects will be seen on nighttime comedy programming. Writing-intensive shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Late Show with David Letterman are expected to shut down immediately, to be replaced by reruns or other programming.
Some daytime talk shows like The Ellen Degeneres Show could be affected as well. Many daytime soaps, however, say they have enough scripts stockpiled to take them into the new year.
Hit next will be scripted prime-time programming. Most multi-camera shows like Two and a Half Men and Back to You are expected to shut down almost immediately, since they generally require extensive rewrites throughout the production week. But single camera shows require less last-minute writing and may continue production as long as their stockpiled scripts hold out—possibly into next year.
Possibly. See, the majority of TV shows are actually run by writers, like ER‘s John Wells, Scrubs‘ Bill Lawrence and Lost‘s Carlton Cuse. And then there are the actor-writers, like Mindy Kaling, Paul Lieberstein and B.J. Novak on The Office. These WGA members are all finding themselves caught in the middle, as the studios have made it clear that they’re expecting them to fulfill their contracts while the WGA is calling for them to stand down. The truth is no one knows exactly what’s going to happen today or how these writer-hyphenates are going to draw the line.
But wait—what about the Teamsters? If they decide not to cross picket lines pretty much everything shuts down right away. Local 399, which represents truck drivers, casting directors and location managers, told its members that it has a legal obligation to honor its contracts with producers. But individual union members are protected by federal law from employer retribution if they decide to honor picket lines.
However it shakes out, unless both sides come to a quick resolution, expect a lot of reruns in your future and a lot more reality programming. Come Christmas we may find ourselves huddled around our televisions, watching Sunset Tan and eating our own hair.