The programmed TV series premiered at a slower pace. “New Releases” and “Just Added” banners are piling up on streaming services with reality shows, documentaries, and international fares. Ninety-minute episodes of “Survivor” and “60 Minutes”. A steady diet of Pat Sajak, Steve Harvey, and David Spade host primetime game shows.
The fallout from the strikes that saw tens of thousands of actors and writers marching in picket lines, along with industry-wide cost cuts, will soon be felt by Americans watching TV—and it will be a shift that could last into next year.
For the better part of a decade, viewers have been inundated with dozens of new scripts every month, an era in entertainment known as Peak TV.
The days of 600 new book shows a year are officially over and it’s not likely to return. About a year ago, nearly every major Hollywood studio began pressing orders for new series amid fears of falling stock prices, a downturn in the advertising market, and a new imperative to make streaming services profitable.
Then the strikes began. Writers have been on strike since May 2, effectively shutting down nearly 80 percent of scripted television productions, according to some estimates. When the actors went on strike on July 14th, they essentially shut down the entire American production assembly line.
Depending on the duration of the labor disputes — many Hollywood studios prepare for the contingency in which at least one of the strikes lasts through the end of the year — researchers and executives said a second round of reduced series orders and strikes will tip the cadence of new TV series through 2024.
“The result for the broader TV industry will be a very prolonged decline in production,” said Richard Broughton, CEO of Ampere Analysis, a research firm.
Broadcast networks will feel the effects first. For ABC, there will be no new episodes of popular series like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Abbott Elementary” in September. Instead, her repertoire will be replenished with reruns, vintage movies, reality shows and games, including “Celebrity Wheel of Fortune,” “Judge Steve Harvey” and two shows of “The Bachelor.” Similarly, Fox will spin off a series of animated, reality and non-scripted shows, including a new game show, “Snake Oil,” hosted by Mr. Speed.
CBS will air plenty of reality series and bring old episodes of cable and live “Yellowstone” viewership to the network’s prime time. It will also import the British version of the sitcom “Ghosts,” which has been adapted into a now-defunct hit. NBC will air a series from Canada titled “Transfer,” unscripted shows, repeats and new episodes of the already-filmed “Magnum PI” reboot.
If labor disputes continue into October, the majority of US TV shows that are expected to air by January will see some kind of delay, a trend that will continue for the rest of the year, according to Amber. If the strike continues through the end of 2023, the effects will be even more significant.
The 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 are up between 20% and 56% over the prior year, according to Ampere. Executives attributed this to continued caution from the past year and concerns about a potential writers’ strike. (The actors’ strike surprised many executives.)
Matt Roush, senior critic for TV Guide, said he’s started noticing over the past few months that new seasons of scripted series are arriving at a slower pace. “It no longer feels like a fire hose,” he said. “It feels like a static spray.”
For streaming services, some products can take more than a year to complete, so new shows are still creeping through the pipeline.
Netflix said last week that the final season of “The Crown” and new seasons of other popular series such as “Virgin River” and “Heartstopper” will premiere this year. HBO is still gearing up for the premiere of True Detective this year, as well as The Regime, a limited series starring Kate Winslet that will premiere in 2024. The final season of Game of Thrones’ “House of the Dragon” — which was unaffected by the actors’ strike and continues to shoot abroad — is also still scheduled for next year.
However, networks like HBO, as well as the streaming service Max, will feel the effects of the prolonged withdrawal. The writers’ strike forced production of Max’s new “Batman” movie, “The Penguin” to be halted partway through filming. New seasons of hits like “The White Lotus” and “Euphoria” will likely be pushed back to 2025.
New seasons of other popular series, including Stranger Things, Yellowstone, and Severance, all ceased production after the writers’ strike began, and will also be delayed.
Netflix has already said it will get an additional $1.5 billion in cash flow this year because of the strikes – money that could have been spent on new series orders and US TV series production.
There are questions about whether viewers will start to get excited about “cancel your subscription” buttons once the pace of new and innovative text titles in their broadcast queue starts to sputter.
“People start to notice if there’s nothing new, or if you don’t open the app anymore,” said Julia Alexander, director of strategy at research firm Parrot Analytics.
Still, she said, many studios, particularly Netflix, will be more isolated than they were during the 100-day writers’ strike in 2007, when broadcast networks were still mainstream. Netflix can now count on a steady supply of both unscripted and international shows, and a deep library of content, for example.
However, the longer the strike lasts, the higher the stakes for everyone.
“All platforms will start to see long-term effects the longer the strike continues,” Alexander said. “That will really come into play in the spring of 2024 and beyond, depending on the length of the stroke.”