Scripted television series premiering at a slower pace. The “New Releases” and “Just Added” banners on streaming services piling up with reality shows, documentaries and international fare. 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 from strikes that have tens of thousands of actors and writers walking picket lines, along with industrywide cost-cutting, will soon be felt by Americans watching television — and it will be a shift that could continue well into next year.
For the better part of a decade, viewers have been inundated with dozens of new scripted shows every month, an overwhelming era in entertainment known as Peak TV.
The days of 600 new scripted shows a year are officially over and unlikely to return. Roughly a year ago, nearly every major Hollywood studio started hitting the brakes on new series orders amid fears of sliding share prices, a downturn in the advertising market and a new imperative to make streaming services profitable.
Then the walkouts began. The writers have been on strike since May 2, which effectively shut down roughly 80 percent of scripted television productions, according to some estimates. When the actors went on strike on July 14, they essentially brought the entire American scripted production assembly line to a halt.
Depending on the duration of the labor disputes — many Hollywood studios are preparing for the contingency that at least one of the walkouts continues until the end of the year — the one-two punch of the reduced series orders and the strikes will upend the cadence of new television series well into 2024, researchers and executives said.
“The consequence for the wider TV industry is going to be a very prolonged downturn in output,” said Richard Broughton, the executive director of Ampere Analysis, a research firm.
The broadcast networks will feel the effects first. For ABC, there will be zero new episodes of popular series like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Abbott Elementary” come September. Its lineup will instead be populated by reruns, old movies, and reality and game shows, including “Celebrity Wheel of Fortune,” “Judge Steve Harvey” and two spinoffs of “The Bachelor.” Likewise, Fox will turn to a series of animated, reality and unscripted shows, including a new game show, “Snake Oil,” hosted by Mr. Spade.
CBS will feature plenty of reality series and bring 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 that the strikes have now halted. NBC will show a series from Canada called “Transport,” unscripted shows, repeats and new episodes of the “Magnum P.I.” reboot that have already been filmed.
If the labor disputes drag into October, a majority of the American television premieres expected to air by January will experience some form of delay, a trend that would continue for much of the rest of the year, according to Ampere. If the strike lasts until the end of 2023, the effects will be even more significant.
A slowdown was already underway. In the first half of this year, orders for new series by companies including Warner Bros. Discovery, Netflix, Paramount and Disney declined between 20 percent and 56 percent from a year earlier, according to Ampere. Executives chalked that up to both a continuation of the caution from last year and concerns about a likely writers’ strike. (The actors’ strike caught many more executives off guard.)
Matt Roush, a senior critic at TV Guide magazine, said he had begun noticing over the last few months that new seasons of scripted series were arriving at a slower cadence. “It doesn’t feel like a fire hose anymore,” he said. “It feels like a steady drizzle.”
For streaming services, some productions can take more than a year to complete, so new shows are still snaking their through 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” set to premiere this year, as well as “The Regime,” a limited series starring Kate Winslet that will premiere in 2024. The latest season of the “Game of Thrones” spinoff “House of the Dragon” — which is not affected by the actors’ strike and has continued filming overseas — also remains scheduled for next year.
Still, networks like HBO, as well as its Max streaming service, will feel the effects of a prolonged walkout. The writers’ strike forced the production of the new Max “Batman” spinoff, “The Penguin,” to shut down partway through filming. New seasons of hits like “The White Lotus” and “Euphoria” are likely to be pushed to 2025.
New seasons of other popular series, including “Stranger Things,” “Yellowstone” and “Severance,” all suspended production 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 productions for American TV series.
There are questions over whether viewers will begin to get trigger-happy around the “cancel your subscription” buttons once the pace of new, splashy scripted titles in their streaming queue starts sputtering.
“People begin to notice if there’s not something new, or if you’re not opening the app anymore,” said Julia Alexander, the director of strategy at Parrot Analytics, a research firm.
Still, she said, many studios, especially Netflix, will be more insulated than during the 100-day writers’ strike in 2007, when the broadcast networks still reigned. Netflix can now rely on a steady supply of unscripted shows and international shows, and a deep library of content, for example.
However, the longer the strike lasts, the more risk there is for everyone.
“All platforms will begin to notice long-term impacts the more the strike goes on,” Ms. Alexander said. “This will really come to light in spring 2024 and beyond, depending on the length of the strike.”
John Koblin covers the television industry. He is the co-author of “It’s Not TV: The Spectacular Rise, Revolution, and Future of HBO.” More about John Koblin
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