Further fueling labor tensions are upcoming contract talks with two other unions -- representing actors and directors -- whose contracts will end concurrently June 30. Although the Directors Guild of America probably will negotiate an early deal with studios, as it has in the past, the Screen Actors Guild -- which shares many of the writers' concerns -- is expected to engage in contentious talks.
Even without a strike, L.A.'s economy is expected to slow next year, growing by 0.9%, down from 1.1% in 2007, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.
"It's not the best of times for something like this to happen," said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the development organization. "If a strike lasts a few weeks, it will be a blip. If it lasts several months, it would definitely have a significant impact."
A prime-time TV program employs hundreds of people. Take Fox's spy drama "24," filmed in L.A. About 350 people work on the show and most of them are not in the writers guild. Beyond nine writers and 11 actors who are series regulars, the crew includes 35 set builders, 14 security guards, 27 people who work in transportation, 17 lighting technicians and riggers, three medics, 14 set decorators and 25 directors, production managers and others.
A drawn-out strike could throw thousands of such workers out of work and have an immediate trickle-down effect.
David Offer, a real estate broker with Prudential California Realty in Brentwood who specializes in high-end sales on the Westside, said: "At a time when the mortgage market is a mess and there are depreciating home values, we don't need any other outside forces impacting us."
In preparation for a possible strike, the studios have accelerated projects, scrambling to shoot episodes of existing series before any work stoppage. They have imposed a Wednesday deadline for writers to submit scripts.
A strike would be most disruptive to midseason programs that will begin airing in January and to next year's TV pilot season. A prolonged walkout could force networks to cancel series in advance of the February sweeps period, when station advertising prices are set.
As for movies, studios are shooting some sooner than they would have, mainly to get them completed before a possible actors strike. The studios have enough films in their pipelines to supply theaters in 2008.