The writers strike only began Monday, and already you're falling behind.
Sure, the impact of the strike so far has been limited to late night, instantly banishing comedy-and-talk shows into rerun purgatory. But how are you supposed to know what's happening in the world without Jon Stewart and "The Daily Show" mocking current events? How will you keep your grip on contemporary life deprived of David Letterman's nightly Top Ten List?
The prospect of a strike was a wake-up call for viewers. Last Friday, "Late Night" host Conan O'Brien dispelled the popular belief "that I make the whole show up." Not true, viewers learned. "Believe it or not," confided Conan, "some of the show is scripted."
But that was then. On Monday, writers who once scripted "Late Night" and so many other shows (and movies, too) were picketing outside NBC's Rockefeller Center headquarters.
"Hey, hey, ho, ho, management can't write the show," they chanted, demonstrating that their own writing skills don't include poetry.
The dispute between Writers Guild of America members and the networks and studios that employ them centers on issues like Internet royalties for TV shows. But it's you caught in the middle. As a pitch for "Jimmy Kimmel Live" put it so vividly, "The more I Jimmy, the better I feel." With the strike going on, you just can't Jimmy like you used to.
And things could get worse. If the strike drags on (and the last one, in 1988, went for 22 weeks), the reservoir of new scripted shows could run dry.
Of course, the networks have ways of finessing this problem.
On Friday's "Tonight" show, Jay Leno joked that NBC is readying "a new show for male viewers (with) no stupid writing — just explosions! Three full hours of nonstop, heart-pounding explosions!"
Is there a silver lining?
Well, in the short term, you'll be grateful for the chance to get through all the shows you've stockpiled on your TiVo.
Another plus? Once your favorite series are mired in rerun mode, you’ll be freed up to sample other shows you never saw before. Think of them like those random magazines in your doctor’s waiting room: They may be old, but they’ll be new to you.
Meanwhile, long-term speculation on the fallout from the strike is running rampant.
According to one theory, all those reruns and reality the networks plan to air might chase you onto the Web for your entertainment binges. Some of you (this theory predicts) will be so pleased with what you find online, you'll never watch TV the same way again.
A more certain outcome: If the strike lasts too long, it will be very costly to the networks and studios, as well as the writers. And that would serve them right, you may find yourself seething.
Strike back if you must. But the absence of writers from TV right now might be a good time to surmount your wounded feelings, and take measure of what writers bring to television.
Consider: At the heart of nearly every complaint you've ever lodged against TV is what the writer did. You spend little time beefing about an actor you might not like. You don't worry too much about whether a shot is framed artistically enough.
What you really notice about a TV show, especially when you object to it, mostly boils down to how it's written. That's how fundamental the writers are.
It doesn't mean you should automatically support them in a strike that, already, is making TV less fun for you to watch. But to give yourself a fresh perspective on their value, picture those writers not on a picket line, their keyboards forsaken, but instead, for a moment, dropped into a MasterCard commercial:
Bottled water, candy bars and pencils for the Writer's Room: $37.
Average WGA writer's annual income (at least, according to the studios and networks): About $200,000.
The script for a top-notch TV show, one that makes you laugh or cry and talk about it afterward for days: Priceless.