As writers return, bosses look for a new chapter

Times Staff Writer

With the writers strike drawing to a close, Hollywood's show runners headed back to work Monday. Here's a look at four high-profile creators looking to pick up where they left off:

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Greg Garcia, the creator and show runner of "My Name Is Earl," is a very funny man. But he's not playing.

His network, NBC, and studio, 20th Century Fox Television, have told him they would like to air as many new episodes of his single-camera comedy as possible by May 15. At best, that would be nine episodes -- and Garcia is going to give it his best shot. How did he spend Monday, his first day back in the office?

"I want to have a table read a week from Tuesday and start shooting two weeks from tomorrow. We had two first drafts of scripts [before the strike], so I'm going to read over those and see where we're at because I haven't even looked at them. I'm going to look at some other stuff to see what we have left in the way of stories. But the majority of my day will be figuring out the schedule, booking out directors, talking to casting -- to hopefully get all the scheduling stuff out of the way so when the writers come on Wednesday, I can concentrate on the writing."

First thing, though: "I'm having a very specific no-talk-about-the-strike policy at work," he said.

And what happens if there's a slip? "That's all I've heard about for the last three months. And now it's over. I'm not going to sit and listen to them talk about it now. If you say the word 'strike' and you're not talking about bowling, you're fired."

One potential crisis: If "My Name Is Earl" begins shooting in two weeks, will star Jason Lee have enough time to grow back his mustache? Lee typically shaves it on hiatus.

"The hardest part is that [costar] Jaime [Pressly] has to shave her mustache because she lets it grow," Garcia continued. "That's going to be the hardest part. I think she's grown attached to it too."

Prolific writer-producer Shawn Ryan reentered the lonely life of a writer on Sunday night. After his wife and children went to sleep, Ryan delved into cuts from a Fox pilot and the last four episodes of "The Shield," which will begin its final season later this year.

The show runner of FX's "The Shield" and CBS' "The Unit," and executive producer of a new Fox series, "The Oaks," Ryan was also a member of the guild's negotiating committee. He had a lot on the line when the strike began: Filming on "The Oaks" was just beginning, the third season of "The Unit" was underway and the final episode of "The Shield," which made Ryan one of Hollywood's most respected TV writers, was shooting.

With the picketing now behind him, Ryan said he was looking forward to meeting with the writers of "The Oaks," that is, if Fox still intends to air the series. He also is awaiting word from CBS on whether it will air more episodes of "The Unit" this spring.

The days ahead will be busy and somewhat daunting for all show runners as they try to get their programs back on track, after having been off work for three months.

"Every show is different," Ryan said. "It depends on where the shows were and what was left behind when the strike hit. All show runners will be looking at prepping, scheduling, scripts that were left, if there were any, things that need casting, things that need editing. There's a lot to do."

Anyone who has been watching the fourth season of "Lost" knows that the writers have managed to raise about 100 more questions than the million already on fan's minds.

But no question will have more effect this season than the one show runners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse face as the end of the strike approaches. When the walkout began in November, eight of the season's 16 scripts were completed. Will ABC order the final eight to be aired this TV season? Or will some of the episodes get tabled for later?

"I think the big task ahead of us is to basically come up with the best plan both creatively and logistically for 'Lost' moving forward," Lindelof said. "If they go along with what we kind of want to do, my guess is it will be fairly aggressive. So every day counts."

If all goes as planned, the producers will begin talking about stories with the writers on Wednesday, Lindelof said. The difficulties, he added, might lie in remembering all of the characters, mysteries and island secrets.

"Pushing Daisies" creator and show runner Bryan Fuller is embracing the good with the bad. The ABC freshman comedy will not return to the schedule this spring but will definitely be back in the fall for a second season.

Because of that, executives from Warner Bros., the studio that produces it, told Fuller on Friday that writers should not come back to work until next month.

A little disappointing? Yes. But that's not stopping the imaginative minds behind Ned the Pie Maker and his magic (or is it undeadly?) touch.

"All the writers are itching to get started, and even though it's voluntary, I'm gathering them at my house for waffle warm-ups," Fuller said. "I'm making the writing staff waffles, and we're just going to start informally and slowly and get everybody started on arcs I've been thinking about since we've been away and looking back at the stories we had at the end of the season and we're going to continue. Our writers are super enthusiastic about getting back to work."

The only problem, Fuller said, with waiting to air in the fall is that production won't begin until June, leaving crew members who have been out of work for 15 weeks without jobs for another four months.

"On the one hand, I love the idea of spending four or five months of pure writing and stockpiling episodes," Fuller said. "That's a big plus. But the big drawback will be that it will be another four months before we can get the crew working again."

maria.elena.fernandez @latimes.com

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