Network executives fear that reality shows and newsmagazines, two of the most solidly performing TV genres, could suffer from overload leading up to a possible strike by writers, actors and, perhaps, directors.
The issue came to the forefront last week when Nick Counter, the producers’ lead negotiator with Hollywood guilds, warned that resistance by the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) to early contract renewal talks could force the industry into a "de facto strike" mode.
Scripted-pilot orders plunged and non-scripted fare rose during a de facto strike preceding a threatened labor action by writers in 2001, when a walkout was narrowly averted.
With another season off to a strong start for reality, and newsmagazines proving effective at plugging scripted-programming holes, a network executive, speaking anonymously, says the idea of producing more such programs to prepare for a possible strike is "not ideal."
"While it would be what we would do if we had to, all of us are happy with the scripted versus unscripted ratio now," he says. "If that gets out of whack and there is too much product too quickly, the odds are against you."
Counter, the longtime chief negotiator of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, reportedly said that the board of the WGAW, whose contract expires next Oct. 31, had abruptly retreated from its earlier offer to producers to jumpstart negotiations this coming January.
The turnabout gave rise to speculation that the WGAW board, vowing to stick with tradition and meet closer to the expiration of a contact, wants to use the threat of an immediate strike as bargaining leverage.
In response to Counter, WGAW executive director David Young said in a statement, "The WGA will be prepared to commence negotiations in the summer of 2007, well in advance of the November contract expiration.