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Strike Could Shake Up Television For Years to Come

For the first time in a while, things actually seem to be looking up in the writers' strike. The writers and producers restarted informal talks this week for the first time since early December, the writers are dropping some demands in the hopes of reaching a deal, and the decision not to picket the Grammys seems like a hopeful sign. Still, even if there's a chance of getting TV shows back relatively soon, the strike's effects will definitely stretch beyond this season — and could change the way TV shows get developed for good.

Typically, this would be pilot season, when new shows scramble to make first episodes that will impress the networks and earn them a spot on the schedule come Upfronts time in May. But the networks are already dropping scripts that might otherwise have been turned into pilots. And NBC is taking the most radical approach of all, nixing the splashy Upfront presentations and even eliminating pilots themselves.

Networks do spend a lot of money producing pilots that don't get picked up. And it's true that pilots don't necessarily predict what a show will look like later: Last year's Pushing Daisies pilot had a bigger-name director and more expensive effects than the regular episodes that followed. But without pilots, how will NBC pick its shows? In theory, scripts should be enough — it works for movies, after all. But networks often take pilots to focus groups to learn if a show could keep them coming back week after week. (Not that that always works: Last year, Journeyman had the best focus group reactions in five years, and we know how that turned out.)

I just hope the network doesn't restrict itself to reality shows and shows that have already aired in other countries, a la Kath and Kim. No matter what, though, it seems like television could look pretty different when this is all over. What's your take?


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