In lieu of strike fears, TV shows get extensions

As television networks prepare to roll out their fall series, they’re also engaged in some unusual activity for the month of August. They’re giving series commitments for 2008 shows.

It’s due in part to the fear of a strike, which otherwise would leave the networks with little to show except reality and reruns. Networks aren’t waiting until late fall to start making series commitments.

“We’re definitely beginning to turn an eye to the strike,” says a network topper. “The rationale is simple: We want to have the assets so we’re at the ready.”

Under new entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly, Fox has already handed out two major series commitments: the supernatural relationship drama “The Oaks,” from “The Shield” alum Shawn Ryan and scribe David Schulner, as well as an FBI-set skein from Imagine’s Brian Grazer and feature writer Chap Taylor.

CBS gave early “go’s” to “Worst Week,” a comedy based on the U.K. wedding-themed laffer “The Worst Week of My Life,” and the Barry Sonnenfeld/Chad Hodge hour “Kingdom.”

Sonnenfeld has also been given the greenlight by NBC for a legal thriller from him and scribe Luke Reiter.

Universal Media Studios prexy Katherine Pope says there’s no doubt “the strike is a factor” in the recent pickup activity.

“But even if the strike weren’t happening, this would be going on,” she argues. That’s because there are new entertainment chiefs at both NBC and Fox.

“It’s first and foremost the (result) of how competitive things are right now,” she says.

By greenlighting pilots now, projects can immediately go into casting and be shooting by fall — long before any potential strike.

It’s not just new projects. Fox pushed back frosh drama “New Amsterdam” to spring — giving the net another piece to play with then.

And then, of course, there’s the inevitable flurry of reality skeins still under wraps at the nets. Fox alternative prexy Mike Darnell says he’s got a thick arsenal of primetime players ready to be deployed in the event of a strike — and his counterparts likely have the same.

“I’m in fast-paced mode now,” Darnell says. “I don’t think I’ve ever picked up or will pick up over the next six months as many projects as I am doing now.”

One agent says strike prep has grown from silence to a loud hum in recent weeks, as concern gains strength that a work stoppage could really occur.

“No one’s hiding the fact that that’s what’s motivating this frenzy,” the agent says. “They’re saying, ‘We want to load up on something,’ and the cash is flowing right now.”

But the worst thing the webs could do, says one network exec, would be to start buying projects just to line your coffers before a strike.

“Whether there’s a strike or not, the public won’t care — they’re only going to watch good shows,” he asserts.

It’s not only strike fears fueling the sudden boom in pickups, however. The spec script marketplace is hot, as the networks are increasingly hungry for tangible scripts rather than anything-goes pitches. Hence the bidding war for “The Oaks” and “Kingdom.”

“People are eager and ready to go,” an agent says. “Give them something fully formed and done in August, and they’ll be aggressive.”

Still, with every early pickup this summer, thoughts of a strike aren’t that far away.

“People are getting nervous,” an agent says. “Internally we’re all starting to think about it. And it will get really scary come January.”

Josef Adalian contributed to this report.

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