The Revolution Will Be Televised Part One: Coming Soon

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Earlier this week, I started talking about a television revolution. It was going to come anyway, but the Writers’ Strike of 2007 is pushing the schedule forward a bit, or has the potential to do so, anyway. But even if the long-term ramifications of the strike are potentially dramatic, what about the short-term?

Late Night: This is how it begins; as of Monday, November 6, all late-night talk shows are in reruns. (The only thing worse than Jay Leno is a Jay Leno rerun. It’s inconsequentiality compounded with obsolescence. And yes, despite evidence to the contrary, Jimmy Kimmel’s show does have writers.) What’s yet to be decided is how long they’ll stay out; in the 1988 strike, both Carson and Letterman (then NBC’s late-night lineup) returned to the air before the strike ended, to varying degrees of success. Letterman’s show actually produced some memorable moments, though, including “Hal Gurkner’s Late-Night Timewasters”, which more or less became the forerunners of the same sorts of things Dave still does today (novelty stage acts, etc). And honestly, it was fun to watch both these entertainers (and former comedians) wing it onstage a bit.


Newsmagazine Shows: These will begin to again flourish, after a boom caused by the 1988 strike, and an ensuing audience backlash. News writers are part of a different union, and so aren’t themselves striking—therefore, this is one TV genre that’s not only alive, but doing very well. News is cheap to produce, and when there’s nothing else on, can be pretty popular. Expect to see a lot more of Chris Hanson entrapment of pathetic chat-room trolls in the months to come.

Reality Programs: This is a genre that really didn’t exist in any major way before the strike of 1988; but TV execs quickly realized that putting real people on camera and letting them act like buffoons for their fifteen minutes of fame was not only cheap and easy to produce, but surprisingly popular. The 1988 strike was what took us down the first Orwellian-nightmare path that is the reality-genre: The long-lived and still kicking series COPS. You can bet on old standbys coming up earlier in the rotation: New seasons of The Amazing Race, Survivor, Big Brother, Biggest Loser, American Idol, The Bachelor, Beauty and the Geek, and So You Think You Can Dance? seem like sure things. And who knows what the reality-TV geniuses (and I use that term loosely) might have in store for us come spring?

Returning Series: Many of these will survive the storm, but exactly how is another question. Some storylines might be truncated (Heroes has already made plans for an alternative ending to a December episode that could, if need be, serve as a season finale instead of a cap to what was meant to be only the first storyline of this season.) Some shows may actually change casts or have to fold entirely, as the stars take up other projects while their series’ are on strike-hiatus.

New Series: This is where the bad news could really come. New series might be in even greater jeopardy than older ones, having not established a solid audience base quite yet. Their ratings, even with the fresh episodes still to come in the next month or so, could easily fall, as viewers prepare themselves for not-watching-TV (an easier thing to do, certainly, given the upcoming holidays, too). And even if the ratings do stay consistent, the lack of stability could play a part in their invitations to resume production once the strike is resolved; a show that might have been given time to build, had there been no strike, might find itself now out of time through no fault of its own. And with a season that boasts some new shows worth surviving (The Big Bang Theory and Chuck are two of my current favorites), that would be a shame.

And these are just the obvious effects—there are a lot of possibilities (the purchasing of cable shows for national network runs, getting the rights to re-run BBC programming on American television—both of which are being considered by execs) that think outside the 1988 box, too.

But this is only the short-term. If we’re talking about a revolution, what are we really going to see? More on that in part two.
-- Teague Bohlen



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