As SAG-AFTRA Strike Ends, Broadcast Networks Race to Save the TV Season

Within moments of the SAG-AFTRA strike ending on Wednesday night, the broadcast networks kicked into high gear to salvage the 2023-24 TV season, which suddenly appears possible — barely.

“Night Court” on NBC will be one of the first shows to return to filming starting next week, according to one person close to the production — with numerous other shows close on its heels.

More than two dozen network shows have been on hold during the six-month work stoppage, and at least a dozen of them will start production within the next few weeks. Some will join “Night Court” next week, others the week after Thanksgiving, like ABC’s “Abbott Elementary, CBS’ “Bob Hearts Abishola” and “Young Sheldon.”

Night Court - Season Pilot
Melissa Rauch and John Larroquette in “Night Court” (Photo by: Evans Vestal Ward/NBC)

Cable and streaming shows are also on deck to kick off production, including Freeform’s “Grown-ish” in December. But there’s a higher sense of urgency for the broadcasters to get back on track, since they’re at risk of losing ad revenue for the TV season ending in May 2024.

“What’s the old saying, ‘Christmas is saved!’ ” UCLA professor Tom Nunan, a former executive at NBC and UPN, told TheWrap. “This is enough time for them to sprinkle enough originals to fill out a meaningful season.”

But Dave Morgan, the founder and CEO of TV ad platform Simulmedia, disagreed. “The die is cast for this year,” Morgan told TheWrap. “The networks have worked hard to soften the blow from the double hit of the strike and audiences switching to streaming, but it will take a full year or more to re-energize their entertainment programming.”

Though full recovery will take time, the goal is to produce 10-13 episodes of the shows and debut them midseason, some as early as January. Veteran franchises like Wolf Entertainment’s “Law & Order” and “Chicago” franchises are “well-oiled machines,” according to a source close to those productions, and should be able to pick cameras back up and turn around episodes to air quickly.

Some beloved multi-cam sitcoms also plan to start filming later this month, as many writers rooms convened soon after the SAG-AFTRA strike ended on Sept. 27.

“The pre-production for ‘Bob Hearts Abishola’ is a shorter time frame than the pre-production necessary for ‘Young Sheldon,’ [since it’s] a single-camera film-style show. But we’re ready,” executive producer Chuck Lorre told TheWrap Monday, before the end of the SAG-AFTRA strike. “God willing, if this were to end this week, we could start shooting after Thanksgiving.”

In the case of “Night Court,” the hit comedy series had finished filming one episode before the onset of WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. The writers’ room for the reboot series reconvened soon after the writers’ strike ended and has completed a few episodes that are ready to be filmed, according to an individual close to the production.

A returning series needs three to six weeks in order to get a new episode on the air. But an individual close to network decision-making told TheWrap that discussions are underway to start announcing midseason schedules as early as next week, with shows premiering between January and March.

Prioritizing established vs. new shows

A pattern has emerged as broadcasters get scripted production back to work: returning shows are first to get the green light. New productions require more of an upfront investment than those that already have a season or two under their belts. That’s especially the case when it comes to new series that have yet to finalize their casts.

“Returning series will be easier to ramp back up,” an insider familiar with Fox’s scheduling told TheWrap.

On that front, several new shows that were supposed to premiere during the 2023 fall season have been pushed back. In September, ABC confirmed that its upcoming drama “High Potential” was pushed to fall of 2024.

Zachary Quinto as Dr. Oliver Wolf in new NBC drama “Dr. Wolf” (Rafy/NBC)

TheWrap has also learned that NBC is considering postponing the launch of mockumentary “St. Denis Medical,” a comedy starring Wendi McLendon-Covey and David Alan Grier, and its Zachary Quinto-led medical drama “Dr. Wolf.” No official decision has been made at this time.

And more new shows are following suit. Two of Fox’s upcoming scripted series, the medical drama “Doc,” which is an adaptation of the Italian series “Doc — Nelle tue mani,” and the lifeguard drama from John Wells Productions “Rescue: HI-Surf,” have been pushed to premiere in the 2024 fall season, the Fox insider told TheWrap. This new premiere date will give the network the opportunity to use NFL and MLB games to promote the series, a strategy it previously used to great effect for the premiere of “Krapopolis” earlier this year.

As for CBS, TheWrap has learned both the revival of the iconic mystery legal drama “Matlock” and the Damon Wayans-starring comedy “Poppa’s House” have been pushed to premiere during the 2024-25 season. This is due to limited space to air content during the spring of 2024, according to the CBS insider. “Matlock” specifically is eyeing to premiere during fall of 2024. The writers room for the series has already started work and producers are pleased with the scheduling shift. Though the pilot was filmed in Toronto, production will relocate to Los Angeles, a move that will require transition time for the series.

Two new dramas are still set to premiere next season on the network, however: “The Good Wife” spin-off series “Elsbeth” and the drama “Tracker,” starring Justin Hartley.

When established shows will be back on set

While “Night Court” is leading the charge, the production floodgates are set to open fully, starting with the week of Nov. 27.

Season 3 of ABC’s “Abbott Elementary” plans to resume production that Monday, according to multiple sources close to the production. The writers’ room for the third installment was set to pick up just before the onset of the writers’ strike in early May. Some scripts are finished, enabling production to be prioritized.

The comedy series is aiming to produce 14 episodes, according to a source close to the production.

Courtesy of ABC/Eric Liebowitz
Courtesy of ABC/Eric Liebowitz

On CBS, “Tracker” plans to resume production in November, an insider familiar with the show told TheWrap. The network previously announced it would debut in February in the coveted post-Super Bowl slot, which should be plenty of time to turn around episodes ahead of its debut.

As for ABC, “The Rookie” and “Grey’s Anatomy” are scheduled to resume production in November. Heading into December, “Will Trent” and the recently acquired “9-1-1” will resume production, TheWrap learned.

Additionally, Season 3 of Fox’s crime drama “The Cleaning Lady” and Season 6 of the CW’s football drama “All American” are also set to resume production in December. An insider familiar with Fox’s strategy told TheWrap that the network is looking to get back to filming “as soon as possible,” and said that the network has some unscripted series it plans to premiere in early 2024 as it waits for scripted programming to be ready. Additional return and premiere dates are currently being discussed.

The same is true of the CW. The strike has not impacted the series orders the network previously gave for its returning shows. That means viewers can still expect 10 episodes for the final season of “Superman and Lois,” as well as 13 episodes of “All American,” “All American: Homecoming” and “Walker.” The Canadian procedural “Wild Cards,” the true crime series “Crime Nation” and “Sight Unseen,” the detective show from Bell Media’s CTV, will premiere in early 2024.

Dick Wolf’s vast universe of shows are also “well positioned to start soon,” a source close to the Wolf Entertainment production told TheWrap. Those shows include “FBI,” “FBI: International” and “FBI: Most Wanted” on CBS. Wolf Entertainment is also responsible for the “One Chicago” universe — which includes “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago Med” and “Chicago P.D.” — on NBC as well as “Law and Order,” “Law and Order: Organized Crime” and “Law and Order: SVU.” Speaking of “SVU,” showrunner Warren Leight posted on X that it’s possible the series “manages to salvage” a 13-episode season moving forward.

Wolf Entertainment shows are not only among the first returning to production, they may also be the first scripted series to air new episodes. An insider familiar with NBC’s scheduling told TheWrap that some of Wolf’s “Chicago” shows may be aiming for a late January premiere.

Strike-impacted schedules affected viewership

Another incentive to get scripted hits back up and running is the network’s bottom line, as some of the broadcasters’ strike-inflicted fall programming had better ratings than others.

For example, ABC’s anticipated “Bachelor” spin-off, “The Golden Bachelor,” has averaged a 0.56 rating in the key broadcast demo among adults 18-49, as well as 4.34 million total viewers so far this season, according to Nielsen live-plus-same-day figures. Now airing Thursday at 8 p.m. this fall, the freshman season of “The Golden Bachelor” has scored higher ratings than the “Grey’s Anatomy” spin-off “Station 19,” which averaged a 0.47 rating and 3.86 million total viewers in the same time slot during the spring season.

Gerry and Faith on “The Golden Bachelor” (Credit: Disney/John Fleenor)

While ABC’s reality bet held down the Thursday primetime schedule, other broadcasters’ did not see the same success with their adjusted fall schedules.

CBS’ “Big Brother” has been averaging a 0.57 rating and an average total viewership of 2.98 million as it airs Thursdays from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. this fall. While ratings for “Big Brother” are comparable to those of “Young Sheldon” and “Ghosts,” which averaged a 0.57 rating during the 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. timeslot this spring, total viewership for “Big Brother” failed to reach the reach that of “Young Sheldon” and “Ghosts,” which averaged 7.15 million viewers and 6.52 million viewers during the spring season, respectively.

As the CW leaned into acquisitions for their fall slate, imported series “Sullivan’s Crossing” and “The Spencer Sisters” saw lower ratings this fall than CW original series. Whereas “Sullivan’s Crossing” averaged a 0.05 rating and 444,000 total viewers as it aired Wednesday at 8 p.m., “The Flash” Season 9 saw an average rating of 0.09 in the demo and an average viewership of 495,000 in the same time slot in the spring. Similarly, “The Spencer Sisters” averaged a 0.04 rating and 387,000 viewers on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. this fall, down slightly from the 0.07 rating and the viewership of 405,000 garnered by “Kung Fu” Season 3 that aired in the same timeslot during the spring season.

Ad revenue expected to recover slowly

While the broadcast TV season may be salvaged, the ad revenue losses may not be made up as quickly.

“I’d say to completely rebound to where they were before, [it will be] nine to 12 months,” said W Media Research principal and chief analyst Karsten Weide. “It’s not going to be before the end of 2024.”

While not having scripted shows is a benefit on the cost side, former ABC Daytime president Brian Frons said ad revenue could be hurt by the lower ratings from the unscripted programming that will fill schedules in the interim. He also expects that licensing revenue will take a hit in the short-term as new episodes of scripted series are not immediately available for international distribution or syndication.

Nunan acknowledged that the networks would indeed take a loss, but he argued it won’t make or break their earnings.

“You’re going to have at least 10 episodes that you can air as early as February for dramas, and then they’ll sprinkle through a few in March and April, and then they’ll have all originals in May,” he said. “So they’re going to be able to protect February and May when the basic advertising rates are set for each quarter.”

Combined primetime TV sales for the 2023-24 season for both linear and streaming grew 3% to $27.1 billion, compared to $26.3 billion last season, according to preliminary estimates in August from ad consulting firm Media Dynamics Inc., which tracks the upfronts. Advertisers also placed another $10 billion to $12 billion for morning, daytime and late-night TV slots.

Primetime Upfront TV Time Sales (Media Dynamics Inc.)
Primetime Upfront TV Time Sales (Media Dynamics Inc.)

The broadcast television networks and cable channels saw combined time sales decline 5% year over year to $19.1 billion from last season’s $20.1 billion. In aggregate, the broadcast TV networks were down about 3% in ad revenue, generating an estimated $9.6 billion, compared to $9.9 billion last season.

Meanwhile, the cost per thousand or CPMs on 30-second spots for adults dropped 3% from $49.35 last season to $48.04 in the current upfront. Cable took a somewhat larger hit with a 7% decline in ad dollars ($9.5 billion) and a 5% reduction in adult CPMs ($22.14).

“Everyone’s adjusting the way that they price things because of the lack of original content,” Nunan said. “When the networks have premium content again, they’re going to get that money back somehow… so it’s normal to overpay for lower rated content in these times because [advertisers] know that the better content is going to come along.”

Sharon Knolle contributed to this story.

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