The latest word on the Writers Guild of America strike is that members will ratify the deal over the next 48 hours and that writers could be back to work as early as Wednesday. That means that, starting Wednesday night, Jay Leno can stop pretending that he's writing all his own jokes.
What else does it mean? The guessing game of what next has already begun in earnest. Will there be new episodes ready for the rest of this season? Will the traditional fall launch be pushed back until January? Has that window to Canada for content been slammed shut just as it was finally opened? Here's what will probably happen next:
THIS SEASON: Look for the networks to push for shows to get back to work immediately so that at least four or five new episodes can be hustled together in time for the May sweeps, if not sooner.
That's not going to be easy. Scripts have to be written and then approved before productions can begin again. The business of hiring guest stars, scouting locations and reassembling hair, makeup and catering staff has to go without a hitch.
Sitcoms like Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory can probably get back up to speed quicker than dramas and could be back with new episodes in about a month.
ABC, hit hard in the ratings by the strike, will take every show it can get as fast as it can get them. In particular, it would love to keep their Lost momentum going. That show has leapt above last season's average since returning last month. ABC would love to push a partial season of eight completed episodes to 12 or 13.
ABC also desperately needs new episodes of Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, Brothers & Sisters and Pushing Daisies, shows that do not repeat well. For the same reason, CBS can't coast any longer on reruns of CSI, Cold Case and Without a Trace. Fox is in better shape with reality shows like American Idol and The Moment of Truth, but they too need House and Bones back to work. It does have a pretty deep bench to get through March and April, with banked mid-season replacement shows Unhitched, New Amsterdam and Canterbury's Law all starting in the next two months.
Thanks to American Gladiators and The Celebrity Apprentice, fourth place NBC might actually be better off without new episodes of The Office and 30 Rock, but fans of The Office can look forward to at least one new episode fairly fast: a script is written and would have been shot earlier except star Steve Carell refused to cross the picket line.
Another scenario, however, is that the networks would stick with their contingency schedules through the end of this season and give the creative teams behind their scripted shows more time to ramp up for next season. Heroes is rumored to be looking at a summer start up, meaning nobody will be saving the cheerleader or anyone else until September.
One series which will likely jump back to work this week is 24. With Kiefer Sutherland out of the slammer, the push will be on to get 12 episodes done fast (eight are already completed). Fox reportedly has three scenarios moving forward: airing 12 episodes as soon as possible and returning next September for the season's final 12; waiting until September and running 24 episodes in a row or skipping this season entirely and waiting until January 2009 to launch Jack Bauer's next bad day.
A more intriguing question is what happens to all those bubble shows, especially all those rookies which were DOA last fall? Expensive shows like CBS's Cane, with Jimmy Smits, never caught on and are probably toast (although Cane reportedly has scripts in the hopper). A lot of stuff that wasn't canceled due to uncertainty over the strike will probably officially get the axe now. Goodbye, Cavemen, K-Ville, Journeyman and Big Shots. Why bring crews and actors back just to grab that last deck chair on the Titanic?
The town to watch may not be Hollywood but Vancouver, which is where low-rated shows like Men in Trees, Aliens in America, Bionic Women and Reaper are produced. All four could be shut down for good as networks cut their losses and go back to the drawing boards for 2008-09. The networks are in no mood to throw any more good money away on losing prospects.
The good news for Aliens on America, however, is that it stayed in production throughout the strike and 17 out of 22 scripts have already been shot, keeping the lights on at The CW. The bad news is that nobody noticed, and The CW could be kaput by the end of the season.
NEXT SEASON: Strike or no strike, the networks are not going back to the old ways of doing business. NBC has already declared they are, for the most part, out of the pricey pilot game. Fewer shows are going to get one-shot opportunities to succeed or fail.
That might actually save some of those Vancouver shows. The nets might have to stick with what they've got for now with far fewer options to choose from.
That should also be good news for Canadian producers who have negotiated deals in recent weeks to export our dramas to American viewers. Word that the strike may be over does not derail plans to air CBC' Sophie on ABC Family or CTV's The Listener and Flashpoint on NBC and CBS. The U.S. nets will continue to cast a wider net as they search the globe for content. The new buzz word in Hollywood is "alternative business model" and that could favor Canada.
In an article written by David Kronke in the LA Daily News (read it here), CBS communications director Chris Ender is quoted as saying that all the U.S. networks are looking beyond their borders. "There are two things to consider," says Ender, "an alternative business model in which you can share costs across multiple partners, and the recognition that the creative talent pool beyond our borders has grown."
Ender tells Kronke that international deals are the wave of the future. "We've been out there looking for international partners for quite some time. This is just one example."
It will help. of course, if any of those three or possible future deals involving The Border or others can break out south of the border.