WGA Strike Threatens Cable's Summer Series


The delivery of a number of top-rated scripted cable shows, such as The Closer, for this summer could be derailed if the TV writers’ strike drags on for another month or more, several industry executives said last week.

“If the strike lasts into spring and second quarter, that could certainly have an impact on the summer, the production of those blockbuster summer shows that TNT and USA and FX and Lifetime put on,” said Brad Adgate, senior vice president and director of research for Horizon Media.

So far, the strike, which began Nov. 5, has had its biggest impact on broadcast TV, affecting programming the Big Four debuted in the new fall season.

In contrast, basic-cable networks typically premiere their new original programming in the summer, when there’s less competition from broadcast. But now crunch time is approaching for cable, due to the strike by the Writers Guild of America, now entering its 13th week.

Production of scripted cable shows slated to debut or return in June and July start as early as February.

If the strike isn’t settled in the next month or so, production won’t begin in time for summer airing, said several cable-network sources, declining to be identified. Those cable scripted programs could be pushed into the fall, when competition with new broadcast programming is keener.

Production on TNT’s summer dramas Saving Grace and the industry's top-ranked The Closer would normally start in April, one executive familiar with the situation said.

USA Network had been set to start production of new seasons of Burn Notice in February; Psych in late March or early April; and Monk in mid-March. All three shows are scheduled for summer premieres.

AMC’s critical hit and Golden Globes-winner Mad Menhad been slated to start production on its second season in late February or early March, for the summer.

The strike has already hit some series. For example, Lifetime Television’s blockbuster hit last summer, Army Wives, was supposed to have commenced production on its second season in November.

“Like everyone else, once the strike is settled we will go into production,” Lifetime spokesman Gary Morgenstein said. “While the strike is hard on everyone and we hope it ends soon, we are well-positioned with our new reality programming like How to Look Good Naked and a wealth of movies that have been green-lit for the year.” 

At FX, production on Rescue Me originally had been slated for January, with the show likely to return this summer. Production of a second scripted drama, Damages, had been set to start now.

Even if the strike ended immediately, writers would still have to write scripts for those two shows, and usually FX wants at least six completed scripts before it starts production, according to FX senior vice president of public relations John Solberg.

Due to the strike, FX was only able so far to finish seven of the 13-second season episodes of Dirt and The Riches, Solberg said.

Dirt is now scheduled to debut March 2, while The Riches will begin in March or April.

FX hasn’t set a firm date to debut the final season of The Shield, but may run the gritty cop drama early in the summer, or schedule it after the 2008 Olympics, which take place in Beijing Aug. 8 to 24.

In the past, FX has run The Shield in January or March.

“With the strike situation, we’ve changed some scheduling,” Solberg said. “No date has been set [for The Shield], but it could be summer and it could be after the Olympics, as well.”