WGA Strike's End Could Heat Up Cable's Summer

Can they close the deal?

There have been a bevy of stories floating in the wake of a Feb. 2 report by The New York Times that informal talks between key officials for the writers and studios on Friday had finally yielded a breakthrough that could lead to the end of the strike that has tarnished Tinseltown for three months.

If , as The New York Times reported, the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers have come to some still unspecified accord over compensation for TV shows streamed on the Internet, then a deal could be struck by the organizations’ boards by week’s end. Ratification by the WGA’s full membership, presumably, would come later.

WGA and AMPTP officials did not respond to attempts to contact them this weekend.

Should peace be at hand in the strike that has kept WGA members off the job since Nov. 5, then ABC’s Feb. 24 Academy Awards telecast, traditionally TV’s second biggest show of the year behind the Super Bowl, should come off without too many hitches.

What it would mean for broadcast dramas and sitcoms that halted production in the wake of strike is another. It’s unclear whether there would be a rush to put together a number of installments to wrap the 2007-08 “season,” such as it. Or would efforts be focused on pilot production in order to pump the pipeline for next fall and beyond?

From cable’s perspective, a resolution to the strike could mean that many of the medium’s original series could return in some fashion this summer. A recent interim agreement by the WGA with Lionsgate was good news for fans of Showtime’s Weeds and AMC’s Mad Men. Indeed, the retro advertising series was scheduled to begin production on its second season -- aimed again at a summer run -- in late February or early March.

A broader accord with the studios over the next week or so should go a long way toward ramping up production schedules, and perhaps getting shows in gear in time for summer. In the case of Lifetime’s big hit, Army Wives and FX’s fireman series Rescue Me, it would be a case of catching up: The former was set to go into production last November, while the Denis Leary-starrer was in line for a January start by Sony Pictures Television.

For TNT and cable’s biggest series hit, The Closer, a resolution with sister company Warner Bros., would leave the Kyra Sedgwick-starrer in fine fettle. One executive familiar with the schedule said production on The Closer would typically begin in April.

If a resolution does come, it will be interesting to see how quickly writing teams can reassemble and pen scripts, and when shooting/production can commence. Broadcast and cable scheduling could prove tricky in the months immediately ahead.