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Writers Guild strike begins, heavy slate of unscripted shows expected


By Christopher Rocchio and Steve Rogers, 11/05/2007 

The Writers Guild of America went on strike Monday after attempts at last-minute negotiations failed over the weekend, creating a scenario in which television viewers will (assuming the strike doesn't end quickly) to see an increasingly heavy slate of unscripted programming in the coming months.

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The WGA's three-year contract -- covering 12,000 movie and television writers -- expired on on October 31 at midnight after more than three months of negotiations between the organization and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) proved unsuccessful. 

While WGA members had already granted the union's leadership approval to call a strike if they considered it necessary once the contract expired during a vote held two weeks ago, the sides brought in a federal mediator last week to try to break the deadlock on key issues, several of which dealt with differing viewpoints on DVD sales residuals and digital (ie. Internet) distribution compensation.

However by Sunday, the WGA and AMPTP still remained so separated on a number of those issues that those involved had abandoned hope of reaching a new deal before the contract expired and instead wanted to simply delay the strike for a few days, Daily Variety reported Monday.

The WGA's last strike occurred in 1988 and lasted 22 weeks, costing the industry an estimated $500 million.  In addition to giving greater exposure to network newsmagazine programs like CBS' 48 Hours, the strike also ended up spawning Fox's still-running America's Most Wanted and Cops series.

With the WGA again on strike for the foreseeable future -- Variety reported no new talks between the two sides are currently scheduled -- television networks are expected to fill their midseason schedules with unscripted programming such as reality series and game shows. (With writers on strike, the networks are expected to run out of original episodes of most currently-airing scripted primetime series by January or February.)

While ABC already has several scripted shows including the (at least partial) return of Lost in the can for midseason debuts, unscripted programming is also a significant part of the network's upcoming broadcasting plans.

ABC plans to bridge the broadcast gap between Dancing with the Stars' currently airing fifth season and its Spring 2008 sixth installment with Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann,  a new reality competition series based on the U.K.'s Dance X series.  Bruno vs. Carrie Ann will follow Dancing judges Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli as they mentor two teams of singers and dancers who are then pitted against each other.

In addition, ABC also plans to premiere Oprah Winfrey's The Big Give as a midseason replacement.  The new reality competition series, which is executive produced by The Amazing Race co-creators Bertram van Munster and Elise Doganieri for Winfrey's Harpo Productions, will follow 10 people who are given money and other resources before being challenged to find "dramatic and emotional" ways to spend it on others. 

Other unscripted shows expected to air as midseason programming for ABC include the fourth seasons of Wife Swap and Supernanny; the second season of Just for Laughs, the hidden-camera show the network debuted this past summer; Here Come the Newlyweds, a new six-episode reality competition series that will feature seven recently married couples competing to win an "ever-escalating" cash prize; Duel, an American adaptation of a French quiz game show that requires contestants to bet chips on each answer; and Wanna Bet, an American adaptation of a German quiz game show that features contestants gambling on whether they can pull off certain stunts.

Similar to ABC, CBS has also completed production on several scripted programs -- including a seven-episode second season of Jericho, the show viewers successfully resurrected from cancellation this summer -- that it plans on launching this midseason but is also preparing to round-out its schedule with unscripted projects.  In addition to its midseason scripted programming and some unscripted specials from CBS News, Variety reported CBS also plans to air new episodes of the game show Power of 10, which first premiered this summer, and debut new game show Million Dollar Password, which will be hosted by Regis Philbin.

Last month CBS also ordered Jingles, a new reality series from Mark Burnett that will see contestants concocting commercial ditties for real products.  While Jingles was initially reported to be scheduled for a Summer 2008 debut, its possible those plans could change due to the strike.

According to Variety, Big Brother -- the CBS reality series that has been a summer stalwart for the network since 2000 -- could also return with a long-rumored-but-never-actually-produced celebrity installment as early as March.

Fox is presumably sweating the strike the least of all the broadcast networks -- American Idol's seventh season is scheduled to debut in January, with Variety reporting the ratings mega-hit will resume its regular two-broadcasts-a-week schedule.

In addition to Idol, Fox also has foul-mouthed British chef Gordon Ramsay to fall back on.  Last month, the network announced it had ordered a second season of Kitchen Nightmares -- a reality series that follows Ramsay as he travels across America and helps restaurants in crisis -- that it plans to premiere "sometime next year."

Then there's also Hell's Kitchen, Ramsay's other American reality series, which Variety reported Fox recently began back-to-back production on for two new installments.  Fox had previously announced that it had renewed Hell's Kitchen for a fourth season that would air in 2008 back in July, and the show's Fox publicist recently confirmed that the edition is still "slated to air in Summer 2008," leaving the network's broadcast plans for the show's fifth edition currently unknown.

In addition to Idol, Ramsay, and several new scripted dramas and comedies, Fox also has Nothing But the Truth, the working title of a new game show that will quiz contestants on personal questions and use a lie detector to determine if they're telling the truth; and When Women Rule the Earth, a new reality series that will feature 12 unsuspecting chauvinistic men becoming slaves in a new primitive Survivor-like "society" ruled by 12 "strong, educated and independent" women.

Fox reportedly began production on When Women Rule the World back in January, and while the series was initially scheduled to debut last spring, that never happened, and it was also left off both Fox's Summer 2007 and 2007-2008 primetime programming lineups.

Fox also reportedly began development on Lady or a Tramp this summer.  The new reality competition series, which is executive produced by Donald Trump, would take a group of girls out of their wild and crazy lifestyles and send them to charm school where they'll attempt to become proper women

NBC plans to launch its unscripted midseason programming schedule with Clash of the Choirs -- a new reality competition special that will aim to find the country's best amateur choir -- which will air live over the course of four consecutive nights beginning with a special two-hour premiere on Monday, December 17 at 9PM ET.

The seventh installment of Trump's The Apprentice -- which was announced after a two-month public feud that began with NBC leaving one-time smash-hit but now ratings-challenged reality series off its 2007-2008 schedule and Trump responding by publicly proclaiming that he was "moving on" and quitting the show -- is also scheduled to air as midseason replacement with a celebrity edition for charity.

The network also has two Burnett-produced game shows in the works for midseason: My Dad is Better Than Your Dad, which will test fathers and their families in a series of challenges for the chance to win prizes; and Amne$ia, which will be hosted by comedian Dennis Miller and challenge contestants' memories for the chance to win cash and prizes. 

In addition, NBC is also expected to launch American Gladiators, its new Hulk Hogan-hosted primetime revival of the 1980's syndicated program; The Baby Borrowers, an American adaptation of a British reality series that follows five teenage couples as they try to play house and become caring parents over the course of a month; and World Moves, a new reality dance competition series produced by American Idol judge Randy Jackson; sometime during midseason.

New installments of both Beauty and the Geek and America's Next Top Model will both premiere on The CW as midseason programming, giving the broadcast network a good base to work from.

In addition, The CW is also planning to debut Crowned: The Mother of all Pageants, a new reality series that will require mothers and daughters to work together to win a beauty pageant; Farmer Wants a Wife, a new Outback Jack-like reality dating series that will see if women who live the city-life can find love down on the farm; and Pussycat Dolls Present's second season, which will aim to create an entirely new all-female dance troupe/singing group.

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