After six months of strikes, the prime-time shelf is pretty bare. But after a fall filled with repeats, unscripted series and backlog of scripted episodes, broadcast networks are racing to salvage the rest of the TV season — meaning a scramble to get episodes into early 2024.
It’s not as simple as flipping a light switch, of course. But now that the SAG-AFTRA strike is over and allowing the cameras to start rolling again, viewers may have some burning questions about what that means. Here, Variety Addresses some of them.
How long will it take for movies and TV shows to resume?
Now the cast can go back to work, however, and there is prep time to rerun a project. Sets must be built, or rebuilt. Team members, some of whom may have walked away during the long production break, must now be recalled (or replacements found). With actors and artisans working on multiple projects these days, schedules have to be juggled: Harrison Ford on both “1923” and “Abbreviation,” for example, or Tim Minier on ABC’s “9-1-1” and Fox’s “9-1- 1: Lone Star.” Which program will be number one for the stars at the top of the callsheet, and what will that mean for everyone below them? (As for the “9-1-1” shows, the plan is for the ABC series to be number one — after all, Disney’s 20th TV makes both.)
Then there’s the issue of studio space and what’s available. As for the scripts, many of them are already in the works — either before the WGA strike or after it was resolved last month. But if a show chooses to save money by block shooting — meaning shooting every scene in one location for the entire series at once — they have to wait until all those scripts are in place. The broadcast series, which relies on fast pacing, is expected to be the first to have shorter-length shoots to fulfill more episodic orders. Typically, the first scripted shows to make finished episodes are multi-camera comedies like NBC’s „Night Court,” which are quickly shot and edited. Some series had already finished scripts and were awaiting a SAG-AFTRA contract to resume filming; Others were in the middle of the writing process and were able to finish the script by the time the actors were ready.
Related: The strike is over, but your favorite shows may take longer than expected to return
When will we start seeing projects return to production post-strike?
A network TV series takes three months to write, shoot, and edit. „If you think about it, shows usually go back in July with the writers, then they go into production in August, and then the shows start airing at the end of September,” said one network executive. „So you can use that as your calendar of how things are going to work out.” Vacations can complicate matters because vacations are mandated by union contracts.
According to insiders, it all depends on when the cameras start rolling: A February date is still possible if the shows go back into production in late November or early December. For shows that wait until January to start shooting, March is more likely. (Ironically, this is the time of year when shows are often reruns and waiting for word on whether they’ll be renewed for the next year, as the final episodes of the season pan out.)
It’s necessary to wait until then, so the networks have several episodes in the can before moving forward. It’s not a good idea to premiere a show, air a few episodes – and then go dark, killing any momentum. A good example is CBS’ new series „Tracker,” starring Justin Hartley. It is currently Feb. Plum has a post-Super Bowl time slot on 11. The studio behind “Tracker,” 20th Television, will now do everything in its power. Make sure enough episodes are ready so that CBS can air „Tracker” for a long time and benefit from that Super Bowl exposure.
How many episodes will my favorite TV show have this season?
As the economics of the business have changed, even broadcast networks are moving away from the old standard of 22- to 24-episode seasons. Nevertheless, that number is still the norm among primetime’s top-rated dramas and comedies. Not this year. Now networks are looking at truncated seasons between 10 and 13 episodes. (That’s funny, that’s still a bigger number than most streaming and cable series seasons, which these days are more in the 6 to 8 range than 10 or 13).
Of course, ambitious programs may be willing to do more. The question is whether the networks and studios are willing to incur the additional production costs. If a program starts in February and continues through March, April and May, that is four months or 16 weeks. (Granted, it won’t make up for production breaks anytime soon.) “The question is, can you? [that many] episodes and start them by the end of May?” said an executive. „We don’t want to push production too far; it’s a mess next year. There has to be a cut.
How will the end of the strikes affect awards season?
The Oscar campaign is in for a shake-up. Now that actors in films can hit the red carpet, do magazine interviews and go on late-night talk shows, the competition is about to kick up a notch. (Previously, only actors in films exempted by SAG-AFTRA were allowed to discuss their projects). This means that directors, writers, producers and artisans who were thrust into the limelight to promote their products may now have to step aside as the stars shine again. And it didn’t take long: By 12:01 a.m. Thursday, studios were already revising talent lists for upcoming premieres and adding actors to the list.
So far, only the WGA has changed its winter 2024 awards date, moving it to April 14 to extend its submission window. Other award shows are keeping their dates, at least for now. But with the resolution of the SAG-AFTRA strike, shows are now aiming to secure patrons for the upcoming festivities.
That includes the primetime Emmys, which have been delayed since September and are now set to take place on January 15. Meanwhile, the long-delayed Kudocast — the Daytime Emmys — may still go ahead. Although no official date has been announced, the Daytime Emmys are expected to take place at the same time as the Kids and Family Emmys (the weekend of December 15-17). Already the Daytime Creative Arts & Lifestyle Emmys are set for December 16.
What’s the deal for actors and artificial intelligence?
AI was a major sticking point in negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP. According to Variety, major hits for Guild, require studios to obtain permission from those actors if they include recognizable features of real-life actors in synthetic roles. Also, the union won the consent requirement for the use of images of deceased actors. And SAG-AFTRA also sought to limit AI endorsements to one program. Under the final agreement, the AI approval may cover more than one project, but those projects must be specified in the contract.
What are the post-strike streaming remnants?
SAG-AFTRA didn’t get one of its top priorities: a share of the revenue from each streaming platform. But as Variety The report said, „They ended up with a streaming bonus, which was modeled after terms obtained by the Writers Guild of America. Under the WGA contract, writers on successful streaming shows receive a bonus of 50% of their standard residuals. A 'successful’ show is defined as views equal to 20% of the platform’s subscriber base in the first 90 days.” An impressive one.
SAG-AFTRA says the bonuses will eventually be worth $40 million. The bonus is worth 100% of an actor’s residual income, with some going to the actors on those shows and the rest being a fund jointly managed by employers and the union. „That money would then be distributed more broadly to actors across a range of streaming shows — not just the most popular,” Jean Madas said. Cast residuals on shows made for streaming are capped at $2,000 per hour of episodes in the first year of renewal.
(Jean Madas contributed to this report.)
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