With Hollywood writers poised to log off their laptops as soon as Thursday, TV networks were bracing for the need to fill the airwaves with reality shows, game shows and even reruns if a threatened strike devours their script inventory.
Viewers could start seeing an onslaught of unscripted entertainment by early next year, when popular series such as Desperate Housewives and Heroes run out of new episodes.
Members of the Writers Guild of America and the group representing film and TV producers were set to meet Tuesday with a federal mediator after scant progress in contentious talks that have dragged on since July.
With the current contract set to expire at midnight Wednesday, negotiators remain far apart on the central issue of raising payment for profits on DVDs and shows offered digitally on the Internet, cellphones and other devices.
More than 5,000 members of the Writers Guild of America recently voted, with 90% authorizing negotiators to call the first strike since 1988 if necessary.
If writers walk out, the effect wouldn't be felt immediately. Networks have enough episodes of shows such as Ugly Betty and CSI written and in production to last at least through the end of the year and possibly into next February, industry executives and analysts said.
But after that, schedules will run into trouble.
Producers already have tried to hurry shooting in preparation for a strike but not always successfully.
The CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother was asked by 20th Century Fox Television to shoot an extra episode during a planned production break last week.
Source credits: USA Today, A.P. News