Writers' strike has networks adding, subtracting By Gary Levin, USA TODAY
Networks are scrambling to make schedule changes amid the writers' strike, which is entering its fourth day and could affect the rest of the TV season.
Late Wednesday, Fox announced a winter schedule without 24, which will sit out the strike unless there's a fast resolution. But Fox is adding new reality series The Moment of Truth which straps cash-seeking contestants to lie detectors on Jan. 23, and When Women Rule the World, a Survivor-like setting in which women make all the decisions, March 3.
Current series including Prison Break, Back to You and House will conserve new episodes for early next year. (Prison takes a break after next week and returns Jan. 14.) But the changes aren't set in stone: "We would unscramble the egg if the strike ended tomorrow," says Fox program planning chief Preston Beckman.
Once the "sweeps" period ends Nov. 28, viewers will immediately see a much heavier load of pre-holiday repeats which usually begin in mid-December on all networks as they conserve fresh episodes for January.
Meanwhile, ABC shelved new drama Cashmere Mafia, which was to have premiered Nov. 27. But the network still plans to air an eight-episode half-season of Lost.
Most sitcoms have either shut down production or will do so by week's end. With a few exceptions, they have completed about 10 episodes apiece, including those already aired. They'll go into repeats by early December.
Dramas, many of which remain in production for the next few weeks, will have more completed episodes in hand, with up to 14 installments.
Among top series, Fox's House has six episodes left (one will follow the Super Bowl), but ABC has only three more episodes of Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives after this week, and both are now filming their last segments.
NBC will be forced to punch out of The Office after next week's episode after star Steve Carell, a Writers Guild member, refused to cross the picket line. Heroes ends Dec. 3, and the CSI trio expect to have four to six episodes each.
One conservation target: series on low-rated Fridays, where NBC's Friday Night Lights and Las Vegas are expected to be replaced so remaining episodes can be redeployed on other nights.
ABC will test out Women's Murder Club on Thursday next week. And Men in Trees, with five additional episodes left over from last season, will last through February.
Also look for midseason CBS comedies The New Adventures of Old Christine and newcomer The Captain to show up on Mondays in mid-January.
Elsewhere, networks are reaching for their stockpiles of game shows and other reality series, and will probably move or expand newsmagazines to fill empty slots. CBS is gearing up for its first in-season cycle of Big Brother, which would start in February or March, three times a week. The network also ordered a 13th cycle of The Amazing Race, which had planned only one contest this season.