The Fall TV concept—old-fashioned, timeslot-dependent programming on the least appealing delivery platform—was alive before the writers’ strike set it on fire. Now, the actors just walked by with a can of kerosene.
Shortly after the writers joined the May 2 pickets, broadcast networks began promoting “strike-proof” fall programming consisting of unscripted programming, batch-recorded animation, and live sports. Those didn’t exactly hold up, and now the SAG-AFTRA strike creates a new headache: product promotion.
In September, some live-action scripts will still be available; those were in the can before the WGA members took to the streets. What you won’t see are the recognizable stars of the shows linking those projects, and an affable sales pitch from a pretty face can be the difference between a flop and a hit.
Take NBC, for example, which even after Wednesday’s major schedule overhaul (CBS got a similar jolt on Monday), still has a few series scheduled for the fall. There are new dramas “The Irrational” and “Found,” as well as the return of “Quantum Leap” and the former CBS series “Magnum PI.” The writers have already done their job on those, as have the directors and editors. However, the actors of the series did exactly half of their tasks.
Promotion begins months after an actor has met their goals and delivered their lines. Networks can (and will) still market these finished shows, but SAG-AFTRA restrictions mean most stars can’t. For this story, IndieWire spoke to sources from several broadcast networks — they’re stressed out, stressed out.
“We were already at a disadvantage with the writers’ strike,” a source close to one TV network told us. “The SAG-AFTRA strike is another blow in the sense that we rely heavily on both showrunners and actors to promote and launch fall programs, and we won’t have access to that.”
“It’s certainly not ideal,” said another person in a similar position, “but it is what it is.”
“What’s interesting is what writers and talent do if protracted strikes start affecting their bottom line, particularly those who have a profit share,” the second source said. “This is the pain point to watch.”
In a typical run-up to the new TV season, TV series stars are selling their stuff at May Advances, when platforms pitch upcoming programming to potential advertisers. This spring, the actors chose not to cross the writers’ picket line. This summer, the actors organize a picket of their own. What they don’t have are TCAs.
The Television Critics Association canceled its summer 2023 press tour on June 9 amid the writers’ strike and lingering uncertainty surrounding the DGA (which inked a new deal with the studios) and SAG-AFTRA. The twice-yearly event has traditionally been a one-stop shop for stars, creators and series executives to meet the press. In turn, reporters would set their interviews aside for the fall promotional season.
As recently as just two decades ago, those events—plus one appearance on morning and one late-night television—provided all the public relations networks needed. We’re in an attention economy now, and that currency, like TV audiences themselves, is much more fragmented. You have to do a lot more to get a lot less.
The studio’s PR machines have already felt the impact of the WGA strike with late-night television on hiatus and talent refusing to cross the pickets at televised meetings in May. And then, just when the actors felt it was safe to get back into the hot water of red carpets and social media, SAG-AFTRA put everything on ice.
Some opportunities remain. The strike will gut San Diego Comic-Con 2023, but there will be screenings and activations in and around Hall H. How cosplayers will react to production designers or music supervisors filling in for their favorite stars remains to be seen.