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Summer Shows Close to the Danger Line

The delivery of a number of top-rated scripted cable shows, such as TNT’s The Closer, for this summer could be derailed if the TV writers’ strike drags on for another month or more, several industry executives said last week.

“If the strike lasts into spring and second quarter, that could certainly have an impact on the summer, the production of those blockbuster summer shows that TNT and USA and FX and Lifetime put on,” said Brad Adgate, senior vice president and director of research for Horizon Media.

So far the strike has had its biggest impact on broadcast TV, affecting programming the Big Four debuted in the new fall season.

In contrast, basic cable networks typically premiere new original programming in the summer when there’s less competition from broadcast. But cable is fast approaching crunch time, due to the Writers Guild of America strike, now entering its 13th week.

Production of scripted cable shows slated to debut or return in months like June and July starts as early as February.

If the strike isn’t settled in the next month or so, production may not be able to get started in time for summer airing, said several cable-network sources, who declined to be identified. Those scripted programs could be pushed into the fall, when competition from new broadcast programming is keener.

TNT, the home of The Closer and Saving Grace, would normally start production on summer dramas like those in April, one executive familiar with the situation said.

AMC’s critical hit Mad Men had been slated to start production on its second season in early spring, late February or early March, for the summer.

Production on some cable shows has already been thwarted by the strike, which started Nov. 5. For example, Lifetime Television’s blockbuster hit last summer, Army Wives, was supposed to have started production on its second season in November, but had to be delayed.

“Like everyone else, once the strike is settled we will go into production,” Lifetime director of corporate communications Gary Morgenstein said. “While the strike is hard on everyone and we hope it ends soon, we are well-positioned with our new reality programming like How to Look Good Naked and a wealth of movies that have been greenlit for the year.”

At FX, production on Rescue Me originally had been slated for January, with the show likely to return this summer.

Production of a second scripted drama, Damages, had been set to start right now.

Even if the strike ended immediately, writers would still have to pen scripts for those shows, and FX usually wants at least six completed scripts before it starts production, according to senior vice president of public relations John Solberg.

Due to the strike, FX was only able to finish seven episodes of Dirt and The Riches, which will be aired. But the network ordered 13 installments of each, Solberg said.

The second season of Dirt will debut in March, while The Riches is slated to start in March or April.

FX hasn’t set a firm date to debut the final season of The Shield, but may run the gritty cop drama in the summer, or schedule it after the Beijing 2008 Olympics, which take place Aug. 8 to 24.

In the past, FX has run The Shield in January or March.

“With the strike situation, we’ve changed some scheduling,” Solberg said. “No date has been set [for The Shield], but it could be summer and it could be after the summer Olympics, as well.”