Thus far, the strike by TV and film writers has been relatively benign. Many of our favorite shows remain on the air and the cineplexes haven’t changed a bit. But what if this keeps up?
Though the Writers Guild of America and the studios are set to resume talks next week, many are forecasting a protracted battle that could last as long as the 1988 strike, which went 22 weeks, or even longer. Here’s a speculative look at what might happen if the strike drags on:
Right now: Late-night talk shows immediately went into repeats when the strike began two weeks ago. Production has now ceased on numerous shows, such as NBC’s “The Office” and CBS’s “Two and a Half Men.” The new season of Fox’s “24,” which had been set to premiere in January, has been delayed so that it can run without interruption. Studios are deciding what films have a “locked” script in order to proceed with production, sans rewrites. Some are being greenlit, others — like Ron Howard’s “Angels & Demons” and Johnny Depp’s “Shantaram” — are being put on hold.
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December: Fox’s new Kelsey Grammer series “Back to You” goes into reruns. Riots ensue in normally quiet suburban pockets of Detroit, Seattle and San Diego. Other, less passion-provoking shows across the dial begin to fall into repeats, too, including “Ugly Betty,” “30 Rock,” “Bones,” “House” and “Chuck.” The normally quiet ratings month is filled with the same Christmas specials, while Oscar-contending films are largely unaffected.
January: Inspired by the earlier “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” live theater performances in New York, writers begin looking for alternative avenues for their work. “Prison Break” stages a puppet version of the show to benefit production staff; an episode of “Gossip Girl” is mimed to reflect writer-less television. Viewers discover that HBO’s “The Wire” is the best show on television, and that they still don’t care much for hockey. The “American Idol” premiere draws one billion viewers.
February: Movies such as the next James Bond flick begin production without writers on hand to recommend dialogue changes. 007 is left to mistakenly order a shaken appletini while dispensing uninspired pickup lines like, “This tux is a zip-off.” On the festival circuit, bidding reaches all-time highs as studios look for completed films, hoping for the next “Little Miss Sunshine” despite the poor performances of indie films in 2007. The Academy Awards broadcast miraculously lasts just 90 minutes without veteran telecast scribe Bruce Vilanch.
March: Top-grade content begins to show up online as writers go the Radiohead route. Lonelygirl15 is brought back from the dead and given a spunky new roommate: Conan O’Brien. On the old-fashioned tube, Ellen DeGeneres (who is continuing her show through the strike) regularly sobs uncontrollably.
April: With a slew of game shows already on TV — Tucker Carlson’s “Do You Trust Me?”, Hulk Hogan’s “American Gladiators” — things start to get really ugly. Regis Philbin, host of the new “Million Dollar Password,” also adds the game show “Name That Duck” to his schedule. Bob Barker returns to television for a 72-hour “Plinko” marathon.
May: Without the threat of ridicule from “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report” or “SNL,” the presidential candidates get sloppy. With conventions looming, Rudy Giuliani drops nouns and verbs from his sentence construction and simply repeats “9/11” over and over. A fearless Hillary Clinton begins jogging to McDonald’s with her husband.
June: Broadway stagehands have long ago settled their strike, and the theater world is flooded with Hollywood writers hoping to follow Aaron Sorkin to the stage. There is a sudden influx of one-act plays about meddling landlords and sardonic extraterrestrials from the planet Melmac. No one remembers why they ever cared about those people marooned on “Lost.”
July: Summer blockbuster season hits full swing, its contingent of superheroes and CGI monsters undeterred by the strike. Tentpole movies like “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and the new Batman flick, “The Dark Knight,” were completed far enough in advance to sustain the popcorn munching of 2008. Unfortunately, there is just no stopping “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.”