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Hollywood Strike Ends, Now What?

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

The writers strike has ended. Members of the Writers Guild of America voted last night to end their strike on its 100th day, and as Hollywood gets up and running today, we wanted to know - what's next? To give us the scoop, I'm joined by Eric Deggans, TV and media critic at the St. Petersburg Times. Welcome, Eric.

Mr. ERIC DEGGANS (St. Petersburg Times): Hey, how are you doing?

MARTIN: Well, I think I'm okay, given that, you know, I've kind of fallen out of the habit of watching television, to be honest about it, and so I'm kind of wondering if other people are worried about the same thing. Are people worried that people have kind of fallen out of love with the tube?

Mr. DEGGANS: Yeah, that was the danger of the strike, is that people would find other things to do when their favorite shows went into perpetual reruns or if they got replaced by reality shows. I think the ratings, in fact, indicated a bit of a dip, and I think that helped push forward, indeed, this negotiation so that the strike would get resolved.

At first, ratings weren't affected all that much, but I think once people started to realize that it was reruns and "American Gladiator" and "Celebrity Apprentice," they kind of lost their enthusiasm for the tube.

MARTIN: So what was at the heart of this disagreement?

Mr. DEGGANS: Well, at the heart of this disagreement was a fight over whether writers and how writers would be paid for Internet revenues, for shows that are streamed online or downloaded though podcasts or delivered through some other online medium. The producers were reluctant to offer any sort of compensation, and writers were worried because they had made a similar low-paying deal for DVDs, and those turned out to be an explosion of revenue. Some movies, in fact, only make money in DVD form. So the writers were determined not to be locked out of online, which they felt was the future of the medium, and the producers were very concerned about protecting an emerging medium and trying to have the resources to exploit it as much as they could.

MARTIN: So I'm sure this is a very complicated sort of package, but if you could just briefly summarize who won, who lost. What's going to happen?

Mr. DEGGANS: Well, you know, I was talking to a writer from "CSI" who said that the best contracts are ones in which everybody feels like they got the best deal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DEGGANS: And I'm not sure that that's what happened here. I don't think the writers got everything they were asking for. They got a flat fee for online distribution of online residuals for a certain period of time - I think three years - and then a percentage kicks in, which is what they wanted. They also wanted to eliminate this weird provision where networks can stream a show online for a certain period of time - I think 17 to 24 days - before they pay anything, because most people watch a show online within a day of it airing. So the networks can offer a show right after it airs and not pay anything.

So you know, the writers didn't get some things they wanted. Producers obviously wanted to avoid paying a percentage, and they wound up having to give up on that. So in a sense everybody won and - everybody won a little bit, and everybody lost a little bit.

MARTIN: So now that the strike is over, when can we expect to see new episodes?

Mr. DEGGANS: Well, the newest episodes will probably come in mid-March, and they will be comedies, because they're shorter - they're generally a half hour - and so they're quicker to write and quicker to produce. CBS this morning is expected to announce that they're going to bring back a whopping 15 shows by the end of the season. They expect their comedies to come back in mid-March, they expect their dramas to come back in mid-April, and they're all the names that you would expect, their highest-rated shows - the CSI franchises, "How I Met Your Mother," "Rules of Engagement," you know, shows that have already proven that people are interested in them.

Some of the newer shows - I know we talked a little bit about "Cane" last time I was on the show. Unfortunately, the ratings for that show have not been great, and it's not coming back this season. It may not come back even in the fall.

MARTIN: But why not? I mean, they've already hired the people, they've already built the sets. That's something I don't understand. I mean, if they were willing to make the investment last fall, what's the difference between now and then?

Mr. DEGGANS: Well, I think "Cane"'s biggest problem was that with the writers strike taking so many shows out of contention, CBS really featured "Cane" more and didn't get ratings. In fact, I think the last time the show aired, they did a double run. They ran it at 9:00 p.m. and at 10:00 p.m., and those shows did awful in the ratings. So it doesn't make sense to keep putting a show on the air that viewers have rejected, and that, you know, that 10:00 p.m. Tuesday time slot is a tough one anyway.

So I think what we're going to see is we're going to see the strike formula of programming on television for a little while longer, a month to two months, depending on what shows you're into. But as we start to get into the end of March, we'll see the comedies come back. As we start to get into the beginning of April, we'll see the more sophisticated dramas come back. You know, ABC's hoping to bring back "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy," you know, all its big shows. Its promising new shows, "Private Practice" and "Dirty Sexy Money" - those won't come back this season. Those will come back in the fall.

And then there's some other shows like "Cavemen" and "Carpoolers," they don't know what's going to happen with those.

MARTIN: And I know what your opinion is of "Cavemen," so we don't even need to...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DEGGANS: Let's not go there.

MARTIN: So what have you been doing with no new shows? You've been polishing up your golf game, or what are you doing? Reading a book?

Mr. DEGGANS: If only it was that easy. I'm TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times, so I've been doing a lot of writing about other things, in particular radio...

MARTIN: Uh-oh.

Mr. DEGGANS: And you know, I cover - I cover local television as well, and so there's been a fair amount of stuff happening there, and surprisingly - I mean, the networks were very prepared for this strike. They had a lot of new programming to debut, and the writers and the producers of reality TV shows never went out, so we did have "American Gladiators" debut, we had "Celebrity Apprentice" debut. Fox held back "The Sarah Connor Chronicles," a TV show based on the Terminator franchise. There was a lot of new stuff out there, and Fox in particular did really well because "American Idol" came back and did great, and some of their new scripted shows have done well too.

MARTIN: Okay, well, come back and see us, will you?

Mr. DEGGANS: Oh, any time.

MARTIN: All right. Eric Deggans is TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times. Eric, thanks so much.

Mr. DEGGANS: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Coming up, the Blind Boys of Alabama. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.