The prospect of a WGA strike has reality producers gearing up for a possible onslaught of new series orders from the networks.
But despite the conventional wisdom that says a strike would be good for the unscripted biz, a survey of industry insiders — network execs, agents, producers — suggests that’s not necessarily the case.
“I don’t know that a strike is going to be a gold mine for reality producers,” says one network vet, who, like most people interviewed for this story, asked not to be identified by name.
“We’re going to go to reality, I’m sure,” the exec says. “But I’m not sure we’ll be able to get away with doing that much more than we’re already doing.”
Indeed, unlike the last time writers walked out, in 1988, unscripted series are a staple of network schedules.
Fox’s fall lineup, for example, contains not a single scripted show between Thursday and Saturday. The CW has reality tentpoles on three of the six nights it programs.
“If in 1988 there was a 50% surge in reality, now there might be a 20% increase,” one observer says. “Reality is already a big part of the network zeitgeist.”
That said, there will be opportunities, especially for producers who can move quickly.
While big guns such as Mark Burnett aren’t the types to rush production, smaller producers with an ability to scramble might pick up some extra business.
“If someone said to us, ‘We need a show in five weeks,’ we’d be ready,” one producer asserts.
What worries some insiders is the prospect of bad reality shows getting rushed into production.
“A bunch of crap is probably going to end up on the air,” one wag says. “It’s not like there are so many good new ideas we can come up with.”
During the last labor strike, the network landscape was dominated by comedies and dramas. Now, dramas and reality shows are the most powerful genres, which means that if there’s a good reality concept out there, it’s probably already been pitched.
What’s more, “During the last strike, you had a bunch of unscripted shows that went on the air and failed,” one agent recalls. “I think the networks are more likely to order more episodes of shows they already have going.”
Of course, even that could be tough, since hit shows like “Survivor” or “America’s Next Top Model” tape months in advance. Self-contained skeins such as “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” or “Wife Swap,” however, could easily expand production.
And shows that currently air only once a year — think “Big Brother” — could find themselves cranking up for extra cycles in-season.
It also seems likely that nets would put on more gameshows (welcome back to primetime, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”) and expand the number of nights they program newsmagazines. Neither move would help reality producers.
One insider believes nets could rely on unscripted fare from sister cable networks. NBC, for instance, might call up one of Sci Fi’s reality skeins while ABC could broadcast SoapNet’s “I Wanna Be a Soap Star.”
Eric Schotz, exec producer of “Soap Star” and head of LMNO Prods., says he’s ready if the networks need him. “You can reach me at LMNO.com,” he jokes.
But Schotz is not convinced a strike would be that great for his part of the TV business.
“There will be more reality put on the air, but to me, it’s about the quality of what you can put on the air as opposed to just another opportunity,” he says. “We should be looking to make good reality, not more reality.”