October 30, 2007 in Business

Hit shows could get reality check

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review

LOS ANGELES – TV viewers hooked on cliffhanger episodes of hit shows such as “Heroes” and “Grey’s Anatomy” could be left dangling if writers walk off the job.

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.

“I was in a network meeting today, and they were referring to the fact the timing is really good for reality producers,” said producer Mark Cronin.

He and partner Cris Abrego have been consistently busy with shows such as “Flavor of Love,” “I Love New York” and “The Surreal Life.”

But “it’s going from 50 mph to 70 mph,” Cronin said, adding that networks must “protect themselves and fill their airspace.”

Members of the Writers Guild of America and the group representing film and TV producers were set to meet today 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, cell phones and other devices.

More than 5,000 members of the Writers Guild of America recently voted, with 90 percent authorizing negotiators to call the first strike since 1988 if necessary.

“I’m willing to put my family on the line for what’s right,” said Mick Betancourt, a writer on the NBC show “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.”

Betancourt has a 4-year-old son and a baby due in December but says he is ready to walk a picket line if asked to do so.

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