How Networks Faced (or Ignored) the Writers Strike in Their Fall Plans

Four of the five English-language broadcast networks have set their schedules for the start of the 2023-24 TV season. Or, more accurately, they’ve announced schedules: ABC fully acknowledged that the Writers Guild of America strike might mean an absence of scripted shows in the fall. CBS and NBC, meanwhile, chose — to varying degrees — to hope for the best with lineups banking on scripted shows, even as writers and the companies represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers remain far apart.

(Fox didn’t put out a schedule at its upfront for the second year in a row, opting to wait a while before its announcement. The CW, meanwhile, populated its lineup with a number of acquisitions that require no additional filming.)

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The typical rhythm for a fall comedy or drama series — writers rooms opening in late spring, production starting midsummer for an unbroken run of episodes to carry from late September to about Thanksgiving — is already looking unlikely, as writers and the AMPTP haven’t held any negotiation sessions since the WGA called a strike on May 1 (nor are any scheduled). Even in the unlikely event that changes in the next couple of weeks, there would likely be at least some delay to the traditional fall rollout for scripted series.

A glance at NBC’s and especially CBS’ schedules, though, wouldn’t give much indication of that looming issue.

CBS is wrapping up its 15th straight September-to-May season as the most watched network, accomplished largely on the back of scripted franchises like the NCIS and FBI shows. So on some level, putting out a fall schedule that doesn’t feature any of those series, or comedy staples like Young Sheldon and Ghosts, would feel wrong. But unless the AMPTP and writers get back to bargaining really soon, a teardown of CBS’ fall schedule is all but inevitable. As of now, the only real concession to the strike is that Survivor and The Amazing Race are expanding to 90 minutes each on Wednesday nights. Every other weeknight and two hours of Sunday primetime are filled with scripted shows that don’t currently have scripts.

There is presumably a plan B at CBS, but the network isn’t sharing anything yet. It has a few other alternative series in reserve, but not enough to cover more than a few hours of primetime. Its repeats also perform better than most (and sometimes outdraw original programming on other networks), but starting a season with a lot of reruns when people expect new episodes is risky.

ABC, meanwhile, is going with a full lineup of competition and game shows, news and sports programming to start the season — save for an hour of Abbott Elementary reruns on Wednesday nights and Wonderful World of Disney movies on Sundays. Several of its game shows employ WGA writers, but sources tell THR that most of the game shows on the network’s fall schedule were taped before May 1. Celebrity Jeopardy! hasn’t taped new episodes, but written material was banked before the strike. (Whether potential contestants who are, say, SAG-AFTRA members would cross a picket line to appear on the show, however, remains to be seen.)

Having no original scripted programming in the fall is without precedent at ABC, but it already had the biggest nonscripted footprint of its fellow broadcasters. At the start of the 2022-23 season, the network filled 13 of its 22 primetime hours with alternative series, news and sports. The schedule ABC unveiled this week ups that total to 18 hours.

NBC will try something in between those two poles: Its fall plans include the same number of scripted hours (10) as last season — but crucially, several of the shows filling those slots have already filmed some or all of their seasons. New series Found, The Irrational and Extended Family are products of NBC’s year-round development and received series orders months before the upfronts (Found was initially scheduled to premiere this season before NBC decided to hold off). Two of this season’s rookies, Quantum Leap and Night Court, also stayed in production after getting early season two renewals and will have at least a handful of episodes ready for fall.

An expanded footprint for NBC Sports — which will have primetime college football on Saturdays in addition to its Sunday Night Football NFL showcase — helps fill out the schedule, but it doesn’t look that different than the one NBC put out a year ago. There’s one big caveat, however: NBC has penciled in fall premieres for five of its six Dick Wolf shows (all but Law & Order: Organized Crime, which is designated for midseason). None of them continued beyond the 22 episodes apiece they delivered for this season, so business-as-usual fall premieres for the Chicago block on Wednesday nights and the other two Law & Order shows on Thursday seem unlikely. NBC has the second half of its 20-episode Magnum P.I. order, as well as more episodes of game show Weakest Link, to help fill gaps if and when that’s necessary.

Fox has said it will have new episodes of its animated comedies available in the fall, thanks to the long production cycle for those shows, but it also has a large contingent of alternative series available and will likely deploy a good number of them to start the season. After wiping out most of its homegrown scripted shows, The CW, as expected, put out a schedule with several acquisitions that have already run on other outlets or outside the United States and six hours of unscripted shows (or repeats thereof). All American is the only scripted holdover from the current season set for fall, and also the only show in the lineup that could be delayed if a deal doesn’t happen soon.

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