Joe Lavin

December 11, 2007

More Smart Shows Expected as Reality Writer's Strike Enters Sixth Week

With the Reality TV writer's strike now entering its sixth week, television networks are slowly seeing their supply of reality programming and other crap run out. With no end in sight, the strike may soon cause the networks to make major changes in their schedules.

For example, this January, NBC had planned to hook the American Gladiators up to a lie detector and televise the results, but now it appears those plans will have to be put on hold. Already, NBC has been forced to show multiple new episodes of "The Office" and "Heroes" each week, and there are even indications that they may be forced to bring back "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," if the strike lasts any longer.

The networks are understandably worried. "There's no telling how long audiences will tolerate intelligent one-hour dramas with well-rounded characters," one insider said. Many experts fear that viewers will flock to Youtube and other Internet video sites for their quotient of real and stupid entertainment.

"If we continue to show original and thought-provoking programs, we may lose our core audience forever," one network executive fretted, though industry leaders remained firm in their plans to continue screwing over the reality writers for years to come.

Each of the networks is handling the strike differently. NBC and ABC were tentatively planning to add more quality programming to their lineups. However, concerns on Wall Street that such a strategy could lead to massive sell-offs of their parent companies could cause a change in those plans. CBS hopes to add some reality aspects to their scripted shows, although their current attempts to add ballroom dancing to all their crime procedural dramas has so far been misguided. Of all the networks Fox may be the best positioned, having stockpiled crap for years. "We think we have enough dumbed-down content to last us through the entire season and beyond," a Fox spokesperson said proudly.

Fox is also expected to bring back their hit "American Idol" next month, with or without writers. No one knows quite what to expect of this move. While the show is expected to draw big ratings, some wonder whether, without writers, Simon Cowell will still be able to come up with his customary putdowns of contestants. "Nobody realizes it, but he's really quite a nice chap," one "Idol" staff member said. "He's always complimenting me on my fine singing voice."

Meanwhile, production on "The Amazing Race" had to be halted last month, with four teams still stranded in Laos. Humanitarian organizations are considering an airlift, since without writers many of these contestants are unable even to feed themselves in foreign lands. Host Phil Keoghan had no comment, on account of not having any writers himself.

While, weeks ago, few worried about the effect a strike would have on reality contestants, suddenly this is becoming a real concern. For example, contestants on "Survivor: China" have been without witty putdowns for weeks now, and away from the glare of cameras, some seem to have given up hope.

"When scriptwriters strike, the effect on the characters is minimal since those characters don't exist. But with a reality writer's strike, real people are suddenly turned speechless, and that's not right," explained Thomas J. Robertson of the Couch Center for Leisure Studies at Syracuse University. Stunningly, without writers, most Survivor contestants are unable to make even the most rudimentary of alliances.

The strike is also affecting such reality stalwarts as "Cops," which is completely out of new episodes. Audiences haven't actually noticed yet, but there have been dire consequences nonetheless. Just last week, in Tucson, one man stole a hot dog cart wearing nothing but pink boots and led police on an hour-long chase through the downtown area, only to learn that no new episodes of "Cops" are being filmed and that his naked shenanigans had no chance of making him famous. "Wow, knowing that, I do feel kind of stupid," he said shortly before being arraigned.

©2007 Joe Lavin

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