When the WGA strike ended Sept. 27, broadcast networks started ramping up plans for return to production just in time to salvage seasons of at least 13 episodes for their popular returning scripted series. I hear most Wolf Entertainment crime procedurals were aiming at doing more than 13, with 15 a number circulated, and ABC and Warner Bros. TV were in a tussle over Abbott Elementary, with ABC asking for 13 and the studio pushing for 17.
As weeks went by with SAG-AFTRA and the studios talking but no deal, the goal post started moving again as it had done in July, August and September, a period when network series would typically be in production but remained idle due to the double strike.
Nothing is set in stone but 10 episodes has emerged as a threshold — a “sweet spot” as one agent put it — for season length during the strikes-impacted 2023-24 season. A shorter order is not considered very feasible given the expenses involved in getting production up and running and then winding it down, making episodes more expensive when the overall cost is amortized across the season.
I hear ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy is among the top series that (for the moment) are planning to produce a 10-episode season. CBS’ CSI: Vegas is another series that is looking at a 10-episode season.
The Wolf Entertainment dramas, including the Chicago and Law & Order franchises on NBC and the FBI trio for CBS, are currently positioned to deliver 13 episodes, I hear.
Most other returning series fall into that 10-13 episode target range. I hear there is a possibility for some established shows to get renewals for next season and film the two orders back-to-back, split between midseason 2024 and fall 2024 run. Reps for the broadcast networks and studios declined comment.
Of course, this is all fluid and can easily change as SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP continue talks. Because things have been shifting so often, I hear networks and studios’ finance departments have been re-crunching numbers weekly — if not daily — calculating costs based on revised production start date and episode order projections.
Originally, when the writers strike ended Sept. 27, the broadcast networks and the studios that supply them were betting on a seamless transition — for the SAG-AFTRA strike to end within a month after the WGA work stoppage so series could go into production the moment there is enough scripts written to kick off filming. For well oiled machines like the Wolf series, I hear that window was about five weeks of a writers room, so they could’ve started production next week if an actors agreement had been reached.
That has not happened, and a returning series does need 3-6 weeks for prep and pre-production, so, with the Thanksgiving holiday around the corner, the hope now is for a SAG-AFTRA deal and a call to end of the strike during ratification in the next week so filming on the first shows can start at the end of November or start of December. That would allow established series to produce 13 episodes, which would fit within the broadcast season.
A beginning of January start could also work for some shows to be able to produce 10 episodes that would be able to air before the end of the season in May.
As for launch pads, mid-February after the Super Bowl has been a main target to get fresh scripted episodes on the air, with early March also in consideration.
The situation is far more complicated with new series, which need more time to get production up and running and often need longer to get traction with viewers. Facing tight production schedule and limited runway in spring 2024, ABC’s high-profile new entry High Potential already was pushed to fall; there likely will be others as we get further into November.