TV mulls fate of stockpiled programming

Nets to air episodes in summer, producers ahead of sked

Now that a WGA walkout has been averted, network execs find themselves scrambling to figure out what to do with all the reality shows and telepics they ordered under the assumption that a strike was all but inevitable.

Fearing the worst, nets stocked up on strike-proof programming. They ordered extra episodes of current hits, gave early commitments to projects that ordinarily might have been pilots and gobbled up unscripted reality skeins like “Survivor.”

So what happens to all the extra chestnuts the nets have saved up?

Summer bumper crop

Some webs will choose to sprinkle the extra shows through this summer and possibly even next summer. TV economics allows the nets to put on only so much firstrun programming during warm weather months, since ad rates tend to be much lower in summertime.

Still, “the networks have been looking to be more relevant in the summer,” one studio head noted. “Now they literally have a crop of summer programming.”

With so much backup programming in the can, there’s also a chance nets will be a little quicker to pull the plug on underperforming newcomers next fall. If a show doesn’t catch on immediately, execs will have plenty of other options.

Nets willing to take a financial hit may also replace some in-season repeats with episodes of the strike-proof shows.

“This gives us the flexibility to start some shows earlier, make lots of episodes and have fewer repeats,” a network exec said. “You’ll also see a lot more shows in midseason.”

Fox, which was perhaps best-prepped for a strike, will now have a very solid slate of summer shows. Comedy series “The Tick” and “Family Guy” will likely air over the next few months, along with non-fiction or hybrid programs such as “Endgame” and “Love Cruise.”

CBS, which didn’t go overboard in ordering strike-proof shows, might have aired its planned second edition of “Big Brother” in the fall. It’ll now almost certainly run in the summer.

NBC has a slew of episodes of “Law & Order” and spinoff “Special Victims Unit” ready for broadcast by July. The net will simply be ahead of schedule on those programs, but could choose to order more than the standard 22-24 episodes of either show without much problem.

ABC had planned to fight a strike with “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” newsmags, sports and several reality projects. The labor settlement means the Alphabet can move forward with its goal of reducing the number of “Millionaire” segs on its sked; not much else will change.

The WB, which had never been a real player in the reality game, ordered a ton of nonfiction pilots. Their fate is a lot less certain than it was before Friday.

Ahead of the game

Meanwhile, producers who banked extra episodes for next season in the event of a strike now find themselves ahead of schedule.

“What we now have is a comfortable lead time that I would like to keep,” one series creator said. “We like to have options of when we produce which scripts. The longer you have, the better the product. The unintended benefit for us is it forced a new discipline into work habits. People are tired but feel really good.”

If thesps don’t make a deal, of course, the nets will still need their stockpiles.

But as of Friday, most webheads were optimistic there won’t be an actors strike this summer — and were already starting to plan how to spread out all the additional programming they now have in their hoppers.

The immediate impact of the settlement will be felt next week, when network execs head to Gotham to trot out their fall wares for ad buyers.

Most webheads had been preparing contingency skeds filled with newsmags and reality shows — so-called Plan B lineups. Now, however, it’s back to Plan A. That’s good news, since the backup skeds would have surely drawn far less coin from Madison Avenue.

“It’s going to be a whole lot easier to convince them to spend money with fall schedules that are aggressively programmed with scripted and unscripted entertainment than with strike plans,” one top level network exec said.