After six months of strikes, the primetime cupboard is pretty bare. But after a fall filled with repeats, unscripted series and a smattering of stockpiled scripted episodes, the broadcast networks are racing to salvage the rest of the TV season — and that means a scramble to get episodes in place by the start of 2024.
It’s not as easy as flipping a light switch, of course. But now that the SAG-AFTRA strike is over, allowing for cameras to start rolling again, audiences may have some burning questions on what it all means. Here, Variety tackles some of them.
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How long until film and TV shows get back up and running?
Now that actors can go back to work, there is nonetheless prep time that comes with getting a project back up and running. Sets need to be built, or rebuilt. Crew members, some of whom likely moved away during the lengthy production hiatus, now need to be recalled (or replacements found). Schedules need to be ironed out, as actors and artisans are these days often working on multiple projects at once: Harrison Ford on both “1923” and “Shrinking,” for example, or Tim Minear co-showrunning ABC’s “9-1-1” and Fox’s “9-1-1: Lone Star.” Which project winds up in first position for those stars at the top of the call sheet, and what does that mean for everyone else below them? (In the case of the “9-1-1” shows, the plan is for the ABC series to be in first position — after all, Disney’s 20th TV produces them both.)
Then there’s the issue of studio space and what might be available. As for scripts, presumably many of them have been in the works already — either prior to the WGA strike, or after it was resolved last month. But if a show opts to save money by block shooting — meaning it shoots every scene at a location for the entire series at once — they’ll need to wait until all those scripts are in. Broadcast series, which rely on fast-paced, shorter-length shoots in order to fulfill hefty episodic orders, are expected to be first up. In general, the first scripted shows to produce completed episodes will be multi-camera comedies like NBC’s “Night Court,” which are shot and edited quickly. Some series already have completed scripts and were just waiting for a SAG-AFTRA deal in order to resume filming; others were in the middle of the writing process and likely were able to complete those scripts by the time the actors were ready.
When will we start to see programs that went back into production post-strike?
The rule of thumb is around three months for network TV series to be written, shot and edited. “If you think about it, shows usually go back with writers in July, and then they go into production in August and then the shows start airing at the end of September,” one network exec said. “So, you can use that as your calendar of how things are going to work.” Of course, the holidays will complicate matters, as time off is mandated by union contracts.
According to insiders, this will all depend on when cameras start rolling: If shows can get back into production by late November or early December, a February date is still possible. For shows that wait until January to start filming, March will be more likely. (Ironically, that’s normally the time of year where shows often go into repeats as they parse out the season’s final episodes, and await word on whether they’ll be renewed for a following year.)
Waiting until then is necessary so that networks have several episodes in the can before moving forward. It’s not a good idea to premiere a show, air a handful of episodes — and then go dark, killing any momentum. A good example is CBS’ new series “Tracker,” starring Justin Hartley, which currently has the plum post-Super Bowl time slot on Feb. 11. The studio behind “Tracker,” 20th Television, will now do everything in its power to make sure there are enough episodes ready so that CBS can keep “Tracker” on the air for a long period of time after that and hopefully benefit from that Super Bowl exposure.
How many episodes will my favorite TV show have this season?
Even the broadcast networks have been moving away from the old standard of 22- to 24-episode seasons, as the economics of the business have changed. But nonetheless, that tally is still the norm for most of primetime’s top-rated dramas and comedies. Not this year. Now the networks are looking at truncated seasons, between 10 and 13 episodes. (Which, funny enough, is still a larger number than most streaming and cable series seasons, which these days are more in the 6-to-8 range than even 10 or 13).
Of course, ambitious shows might be ready to do more. The question there is whether the networks and studios will want to spend the extra production costs to do it. If a show starts in February, and then continues through March, April and May, that’s four months, or 16 weeks. (Granted, that doesn’t build in any time for production hiatuses.) “The question is, can you do [that many] episodes and get them on by the end of May?” one exec said. “We don’t want to push production too far; it messes up next year. There’s got to be a cut off.”
How will the end of the strikes impact awards season?
The Oscar campaign is about to undergo a shakeup. Now that actors on films can hit the red carpets, do interviews with press and go on the late night talk shows, the competition is about to ratchet up a notch. (Before now, only performers in films that had been given waivers by SAG-AFTRA were allowed to discuss their projects). This also means that the directors, writers, producers and artisans who had been pushed into the limelight to promote their wares will now have to step aside a bit as stars once again take the limelight. And it didn’t take long: By 12:01 a.m. Thursday morning, studios were already revising talent lists for upcoming premieres, adding actors to the roster.
So far, only the WGA has moved its winter 2024 awards date, moving it to April 14 in order to extend its submissions window. Other awards shows are holding on to their dates, at least for now. But with the resolution of the SAG-AFTRA strike, the shows are now aiming to secure hosts for upcoming ceremonies.
That includes the Primetime Emmys, delayed from September and now scheduled to take place on Jan. 15. Meanwhile, the kudocast that has been postponed the longest – the Daytime Emmys — can now also move forward. Although no date has officially been announced, it’s expected that the Daytime Emmys will take place the same time as the Children’s & Family Emmys (the weekend of Dec. 15-17). Already the Daytime Creative Arts & Lifestyle Emmys are set for Dec. 16.
What does the deal mean for actors and artificial intelligence?
AI was a key sticking point in the negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP. According to Variety, key wins for the guild included a requirement that if a synthetic character included recognizable features of real-life actors, studios must get permission from those actors. Also, the union also won a consent requirement for the use of dead actors’ images. And SAG-AFTRA also sought to limit AI consents to a single project. Under the final agreement, an AI consent can cover more than one project, but those projects must be spelled out in the contract.
What are streaming residuals now post-strike?
SAG-AFTRA did not get one of its top priorities: a share of revenue from each streaming platform. But as Variety reported, “They ended up with a streaming bonus that is modeled on terms obtained by the Writers Guild of America. Under the WGA deal, writers on successful streaming shows will get a 50% bonus on their standard residual. A ‘successful’ show is one that attracts views amounting to the equivalent of 20% of a platform’s subscriber base in the first 90 days.”
SAG-AFTRA says that bonus will ultimately be worth around $40 million. The bonus will be worth 100% of an actor’s residual, with some going to actors on those shows, and the remainder to a fund jointly administered by the employers and the union. “That money will then be distributed more broadly to actors on a range of streaming shows — not just the most popular ones,” Gene Maddaus reported. Actors’ residuals on made-for-streaming shows are capped at $2,000 in the first year of reuse for hour-long episodes.
(Gene Maddaus contributed to this report.)
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