Scripted television series premieres have been slow. The “New Release” and “Just Added” banners on streaming services have become cluttered with reality shows, documentaries, and international performances. Ninety-minute episodes of “Survivor” and “60 Minutes”. A steady diet of Pat Sajak, Steve Harvey and David Spade hosting game shows in prime time.
The fallout of those strikes, along with industrywide cost cuts, will soon be felt by Americans who are protesting along with industrywide cost cuts – and it will be a change that could continue into next year.
For the better part of a decade, audiences have been treated to dozens of new scripted shows every month, a groundbreaking era of entertainment known as Peak TV.
The days of 600 new scripted shows a year are officially over and are unlikely to return. About a year ago, nearly every major Hollywood studio began putting the brakes on new series orders amid fears of falling stock prices, a slump in the advertising market and new imperatives to make streaming services profitable.
Then the walkout started. By some estimates, the writers have been on strike since May 2, effectively shutting down nearly 80 percent of scripted television productions. When actors went on strike on July 14, they essentially brought the entire American scripted production assembly line to a halt.
Based on the duration of the labor disputes – many Hollywood studios are preparing for the contingency that at least one walkout lasts through the end of the year – a couple of shocks of fewer series orders and the strike will slow the pace of new television series through 2024, researchers and executives said.
“The result for the wider TV industry is going to be a prolonged decline in output,” said Richard Broughton, executive director of research firm Ampere Analysis.
Broadcast networks will be the first to feel the impact. For ABC, September will have zero new episodes of popular series like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Abbott Elementary.” Instead its lineup will be filled with reruns, old movies and reality and game shows, including “Celebrity Wheel of Fortune,” “Judge Steve Harvey” and two spinoffs of “The Bachelor.” Similarly, Fox will launch a series of animated, reality, and unscripted shows, including a new game show, “Snake Oil,” hosted by Mr. Spade.
CBS will introduce a slew of reality series and bring back old episodes of the cable and streaming hit “Yellowstone” to network prime time. It will also import the British version of the sitcom “Ghosts”, which it adapted into a hit, now called Strike Stop. NBC will air a series from Canada called “Transport,” unscripted shows, repeats and new episodes of the “Magnum PI” reboot that have already been filmed.
According to Ampere, if labor disputes drag on until October, most US television premieres scheduled to air until January will experience some sort of delay, a trend that will continue for most of the rest of the year. If the strike lasts until the end of 2023, the effects will be even more significant.
The recession was already underway. New series orders by companies including Warner Bros. Discovery, Netflix, Paramount and Disney declined between 20 percent and 56 percent in the first half of this year compared to a year earlier, according to Ampere. Executives framed it as a continuation of last year’s caution and on concerns about a possible writers’ strike. (The actors’ strike upset many executives.)
Matt Roush, a senior critic for TV Guide magazine, said he has begun to notice over the past few months that new seasons of scripted series are slow to arrive. “It doesn’t feel like a fire hose anymore,” he said. “It feels like incessant drizzling.”
For streaming services, some productions can take more than a year to complete, so new shows are still coming down the pipeline.
Netflix said last week that the final season of “The Crown” and new seasons of other popular series like “Virgin River” and “Heartstopper” would premiere this year. HBO still has “True Detective” to premiere this year, as well as “The Regime,” a limited series starring Kate Winslet that will premiere in 2024. The latest season of “Game of Thrones” spinoff “House of the Dragon” — which has not been affected by the actors’ strike and has continued filming overseas — is also set for next year.
Still, networks like HBO, as well as its Max streaming service, will feel the effects of the walkout for a long time. The writers’ strike forced production on the new Max “Batman” spinoff, “The Penguin”, to be partially shut down during filming. New seasons of hits like “The White Lotus” and “Euphoria” are likely to be extended until 2025.
Production on new seasons of other popular series including “Stranger Things,” “Yellowstone” and “Severance” has been suspended after the writers’ strike began, and will also be delayed.
Netflix already said it would have an additional $1.5 billion in cash flow this year because of the strikes – money that would otherwise have been spent on new series orders and production for US TV shows.
There are questions as to whether viewers will start getting trigger-happy around the “cancel your subscription” button once their streaming queues are filled with new, brilliantly scripted titles.
“People start to notice if there’s nothing new, or if you’re not opening the app anymore,” said Julia Alexander, director of strategy at Parrot Analytics, a research firm.
Still, he said, many studios, notably Netflix, will be more untouched than the 100-day writers’ strike in 2007, when broadcast networks still reigned. For example, Netflix can now count on a steady supply of unscripted shows and international shows, and a deep library of content.
However, the longer the strike lasts, the greater the risk for everyone.
“The longer the strike drags on, the longer-term effects will begin to be seen across all platforms,” Ms Alexander said. “This will really come to the fore in the spring of 2024 and beyond, depending on the length of the strike.”