Hollywood Writers Vote to End Strike

But It's Unlikely to Be Business as Usual at Nets

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- After three months of acrimony, an armistice between Hollywood's writers and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers was finally approved late today. The final vote: 92.5% of 3,775 writers who turned out in Los Angeles and New York to cast ballots or fax in proxies voted in favor of ending the 100-day strike, according to the Writer's Guild America.

"The strike is over. Our membership has voted, and writers can go back to work," Patric M. Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America, West, said in a statement.

But while it's safe to say writers are heading back to work, things are hardly back to normal: Networks that had exercised force majeure clauses to slash deals with writers might not be so quick to re-sign nearly as much talent as before. Having larded prime time with reality shows and other stopgaps, many writers and agents simply do not expect scripted TV to return to previous levels next season -- let alone this spring.

For example, at CBS, scripted dramas such as "Shark," "Cane" and "The Unit" will remain on hiatus until at least the fall schedule, with other programming filling their slots: Reality show "Big Brother," already-completed midseason replacement "Jericho" and a sanitized-for-prime-time version of serial-killer series "Dexter" (imported from sibling cable network Showtime) will take their places.

Comedies back by March
Explained one CBS insider of the decision to keep the salty-mouthed sociopath "Dexter" on the schedule: "Promotional and programming resources have already been expended; the strike ending doesn't change that."

According to knowledgeable insiders who wouldn't speak for attribution for fear of affecting the writer's vote today, CBS's comedies -- half-hour shows such as "Two and a Half Men" and "How I Met Your Mother" -- would be able to begin airing new episodes by mid-March. Dramas such as the "CSI" franchise and "Cold Case" will start to return in early-April.

At every broadcast network, executives were clustered in conference rooms and around white boards today, seeking to undo the ataxia that the Writers Guild of America work stoppage had unleashed on their shooting schedules and broadcast days. Hard decisions were being made about which shows would shoot new episodes, which would be scuttled and which would be salted away until fall.

A piece of the web
At ABC, for example, promising freshman series such as "Dirty Sexy Money," "Private Practice" and "Pushing Daisies" likely will have to wait until next season to resume production, while Geico's TV-commercial transplant "Cavemen" has become a dual casualty of both Nielsen ratings and the strike.

The strike was, above all things, a strike about the digital future.

Determined not to miss out on a bonanza of cash akin to the DVD and home-video windfall it missed out on 20 years ago, writers did manage to successfully gain a toehold on the web: According to a 2007 PricewaterhouseCoopers' forecast, half of all entertainment industry growth will be generated through online and mobile by 2011. In the long run, many writers say, the near-term pain will have been worth it.

WGA members will next vote to ratify a tentative three-year contract with the AMPTP, according the the guild.
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