Law & Order, FBI, Grey’s Anatomy and 9-1-1: Lone Star fans are set to be able to enjoy some new episodes of their favorite shows in the 2023-24 broadcast season after the WGA and the AMPTP struck a tentative deal that would end the writers strike.
The beginning of October widely was seen as the marker for when the writers strike would need to be over to give ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC a fighting chance to get any of their scripted shows on the air for a midseason premiere.
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While the actors strike still needs to be resolved and the writers deal still needs to be voted on and ratified, there is optimism that the majority of network dramas and comedies will be able to launch in the new year.
Deadline spoke to a group of network execs, who said that by and large it will take drama series eight to 10 weeks to be back up and running and six to eight weeks for comedies.
If writers can get back to their desks around the beginning of October, which is likely given that there’s a suggestion that the WGA might vote to lift the strike restraining order as soon as the end of this week, execs agree that dramas can be back on air early to mid-March. This applies mostly to procedurals such as the One Chicago franchise, The Rookie, NCIS and The Cleaning Lady — essentially series without too many special effects.
This would mean shooting to begin around Thanksgiving. Shoot weeks also could increase from five days a week to six and many could keep working through the end of the year, rather than following the “private school” schedule that sees many break for Christmas much earlier in December.
This also depends on when (and if) SAG-AFTRA closes a deal with the AMPTP. Execs suggest that for these dates to work, the actors union would have to be back and ready to work in mid-November.
Other believe that it’s more realistic to start shooting in January.
“The biggest issue on timing is the holidays — both Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said one network source. “Given the writing time needed, I doubt any of these shows goes into production prior to January.”
Launch in midseason or wait for fall 2024?
Some shows will be in a slightly advantageous place than others. Many of the networks planned ahead before the walkout and made sure that there was material banked. NBC, which actually has two new shows – Found and The Irrational – already on its fall schedule as they were pushed from last season, was one of these that planned for this eventuality. We hear the network ordered material for comedies such as Night Court and new series Extended Family, which stars Jon Cryer.
Night Court is understood to have scripts ready to go for the next several episodes, and Extended Family, which also stars Donald Faison and Abigail Spencer, already has shot the first six episodes of the season and will continue from there.
The Mike O’Malley-created family comedy is one of a number of new shows planned for the 2023-24 season alongside the likes of NBC’s St. Denis Medical; CBS’ Tracker, Elsbeth, Matlock and Poppa’s House; ABC’s High Potential; and Fox’s Doc and Rescue: Hi-Surf.
These might be harder to get going as quickly given that they will need a little more time to find their rhythm and fill out their ranks. Sources said don’t be surprised to see some, if not many of these, pushed to the 2024-25 season.
Sizes of 2023-24 episodic orders may vary
The other question mark is how many episodes will be ordered of each show.
Warren Leight, former showrunner of NBC’s Law & Order: SVU, suggested that if SAG-AFTRA strikes an agreement by the end of October, a “13-episode network season could still be saved” and that if cast and crew only took one week off at Christmas, they could shoot five episodes before the new year and eight more before late April.
Don’t expect too many six- to eight-episode orders, given the costs.
Many also pointed to international distribution deals, which require a certain number of episodes, as well as increased costs, both relating to getting things running quickly, as well as the knock-on costs of the WGA (and potentially SAG-AFTRA) deals.
Marketing costs must also be taken into consideration, which means short order seasons are unlikely.
“From a studio perspective, producing six to eight episodes is terrible financially, and I am assuming that whatever ends up coming out of the strike is going to make the shows more expensive thus making a short order impossible most likely,” said one source.
“Depending on the performance of the show, I would order more than six or eight and be ahead for the fall of 2024,” one exec said. “The better idea financially is to order more and hold what can’t air this season for next fall.”
Another exec added: “Unless you have obscene amounts of money to blow on the episodes, you have to order more than six. If you knew the show was going to be on in the fall, you could carry over episodes.”
This means the networks actually could end up ordering more episodes than they might have expected to during the last few months, turning a 12-episode order into a 16-episode order with six episodes on in the spring — or potentially even summer — and then the remaining episodes airing in the fall.
Cancellations might be coming
This, in turn, will have an impact on development for next broadcast season. There are still decisions to be made on pilots such as NBC’s Wolf, starring Zachary Quinto; CBS’ JumpStart; and ABC’s The Good Doctor spinoff The Good Lawyer.
There inevitably will be cancelations as well. Some streamers already have started reversing renewal decisions on shows such as Amazon’s Chloë Grace Moretz-fronted The Peripheral along with A League of their Own and Peacock’s Bumper in Berlin.
This will likely be followed in broadcast. ABC’s Home Economics and The Rookie: Feds and Fox’s Welcome to Flatch, which all were considered bubble shows, are likely to be looked at with a new eye.
“If a show wasn’t a great performer and more on the bubble, I would consider if it is worth ordering it at all,” said one exec.
Then there’s casting. Writers might have written the first two or three episodes of a show before the strike started and added a new character. If the network and studio lands the first person they go after and the deal closes quickly, this could be possible, but realistically it will take two to three weeks to cast. The question then becomes whether to rewrite the episode rather than search for new talent.
The good news is that everyone wants to, and many need to, return to work after a grueling four-plus months without being paid for writers and over two months for actors, which means many will be willing to adapt for an “unusual” year.
Whether Disney’s Bob Iger, who oversees a number of studios and ABC; Donna Langley, who now oversees NBC and Peacock as well as two domestic studios; and David Zaslav, whose company owns Warner Bros. Television; had the broadcast season in mind or the start of the Q4 financial quarter when they finally turned up in Sherman Oaks to move the process along is unclear, but a deal means that, for now, there’s optimism in the ranks for “saving” the season.
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