DAVID BIANCULLI

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Strike One! Strike Two
November 8, 2007  | By David Bianculli
 
The last time there was a writers' strike in Hollywood - meaning show biz rather than geography, since it hits New York as well - it was in 1988, it lasted just over 22 weeks, and it was writers vs. producers, while the networks sat by as concerned bystanders. The net result was that about 10 percent of the broadcast TV networks' audience defected to cable and never looked back.

Two decades later, industry deregulation and audience fragmentation have made it a very different ball game. This time, the same companies that own the broadcast networks own the cable networks, so don't care as much where the audience watches its TV. Except that in 2007, the choice isn't limited to broadcast or cable. It is, in the most basic sense, to TV or not TV. That is the question.

And the answer may well be, if you're not giving viewers what they want to watch on TV - and for younger viewers, especially, this means if you're not giving them Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and Conan O'Brien, which, as of this week, TV isn't - then the audience is likely to go elsewhere. To DVDs, where the shows aren't interrupted by ads and cluttered with bugs and promos. To video games. To YouTube and the Internet, more and more, and thinking about the networks less and less.

If the strike lasts six months or more this time, and TV loses another 10 percent of its viewers, it's not likely to lose them to the same medium. And once they're lost, they'll never, ever come back in the same numbers.

Already, in its first week, the strike is having one serious side effect. It's robbing certain shows of momentum, and of invaluable opportunities to react to current events.

It hardly seems fair that Pat Robertson endorses Rudy Giuliani, without Stewart, Colbert, O'Brien or David Letterman getting to have fun with it.

It seems less than fair that Bill Maher, on what would have been his live season finale tomorrow night on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher (and with Ben Affleck among the scheduled guests), has to settle for a rerun instead.

And after last week's season-best edition of Saturday Night Live, with Brian Williams proving to be one of the funniest "sleeper" guest hosts ever, it's a shame that this week's scheduled live edition, with The Rock as host, has been scrapped. NBC, finding itself between a Rock and a hard place, had to settle for the hard place.

And for a while, so shall we all. Fox announced yesterday it is postponing the January premiere of 24, rather than interrupt its sequential weekly broadcast because of a protracted strike. If ABC follows suit, and postpones the midseason relaunch of Lost, then TV's second season will be a lot less enjoyable - and a lot more infected with reality series.

Say it ain't so, J-Lo.

 

1 Comment

 

Chris Spurgeon said:

Picketers outside of the Disney Studios in Burbank today.

Comment posted on November 12, 2007 6:51 PM
 
 
 
 
 
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