Near the end of its third week, a strike by movie and television writers has begun to take a significant toll on Hollywood economics and TV viewing schedules.
The strike began March 7, with the collapse of contract talks between the 9,000-member Writers Guild of America and about 200 production companies represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. No new talks are scheduled, and both sides say a long strike is possible.
The following report on the strike's impact to date is based on information provided by the producers association, the writers guild and the major TV networks and production companies. It doesn't claim to be complete.
JOBS LOST: Strike-related layoffs have been concentrated in prime-time TV, as some shows ran out of scripts and ended production early for the season. According to the producers group, job losses at the larger production companies include:
--Cast and crew: 950 early layoffs, at a cost to workers of about $4 million in salary and benefits for the season.
--Clerical workers: 125 secretaries and others laid off indefinitely, at a cost to them of about $72,000 in salary and benefits per week.
--Writers/producers: 125 suspended from studio TV development deals, at a cost to them of about $1.5 million per week.
COMPANY PERFORMANCE: Precise impact remains unclear, though short-term effect appears minimal. According to the guild, a prolonged strike could dent advertising revenue, permanently depress the networks' share of the overall TV audience and cost the studios revenue and profit as they fail to deliver shows or produce movies.
TV SCHEDULES: News programs are unaffected because news writers are covered by a separate contract, and daytime soap operas so far have forged ahead with scripts already in hand. But many prime-time series ran out of scripts and produced fewer shows than expected for the current season. If the strike extends into the summer, it will probably delay the new TV season. But network executives have privately said they are relatively unconcerned about their fall schedules, which are already heavy with coverage of the Seoul Olympics, the baseball playoffs and World Series and the presidential campaign.
--"Moonlighting" (ABC Circle Films): No script for a splashy 3-D episode intended for the May sweeps. This week's episode was several minutes short, and filled with apparently ad-libbed material, including actor Curtis Armstrong lip-syncing "Wooly Bully."
--"thirtysomething" (MGM/UA): Shut down, one episode short for the season.
--"60th Annual Academy Awards Presentation" (ABC): Spokesmen for the April 11 Oscar show say strike impact will be minimal, since a script is finished. But writers say the annual Oscar program has normally relied on extensive last-minute rewrites that can't be done by guild members under strike rules.
--"Rosanne Barr" (Carsey/Werner): Proposed new half-hour comedy has one episode produced, but lacks scripts for at least some of an intended six episodes.
--"Coming of Age" (Universal): New half-hour comedy has six of an intended eight episodes finished, but remains two scripts short.
--"The Dictator" (Walt Disney): Half-hour comedy missed its intended premiere March 15. May still show up on the fall schedule.
--"Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" (Kragen & Co.): Variety show opens Wednesday, one week later than originally planned. Three scripts are ready, but future is uncertain.
--"Cheers" (Paramount): One episode short for season.
--"The Cosby Show" (Carsey/Werner): Short two of an intended 25 episodes.
--"L.A. Law" (Fox): Two episodes short for season.
--"Late Night With David Letterman" (Carson Prods.): In reruns for the duration, unless the guild reverses its current position and grants a requested separate contract for the show's writers.
--"The Tonight Show" (Carson Prods.): In reruns for the duration, unless the guild reverses its current position and grants a requested separate contract.
--"Saturday Night Live" (NBC): In reruns for the duration.
--"Brothers" (Paramount): Shut down.
--"It's Garry Shandling's Show" (Our Prod. Co.): Has two episodes in the can, but otherwise in reruns unless the guild grants a requested separate contract.
No serious impact has been felt yet on film production, because movies are generally based on scripts written months in advance. But studio development executives, who work with writers in securing scripts for future films, are slowing to a near halt.
Todd Karr and Devorah Knaff contributed to this story.