Your Writers' Strike Theory Is Wrong

Crazy writers' strike theories abound in the TV business and consumer press -- more speculation than for Britney's next attempted court appearance or O.J.'s next memorabilia visit to a casino.

Take the one about "Late Show with David Letterman" returning to late night TV with proper union writers and "A"-list stars. All this was supposed to get him closer in viewership to the likes of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" because Leno's show would be returning without writers and without big-time guests.

The result? It didn't make a bit of difference. Letterman is almost exactly at the same level behind Leno as he was before the strike.

Next comes Fox's "American Idol." The theory was that "Idol" -- which already crushes other programs -- would destroy the field even more because there would be no original scripted programming to run against it, only some lame reality shows.

That didn't happen either (so far). "Idol" is down 15% and 19% respectively in its first two nights of the new season among 18- to 49-year-old viewers.

"Idol" performed just like any seven-year-old show might -- retaining much of its audience, but losing some viewers. Still, Fox isn't complaining about the 12 and 13 rating performances among 18-49 viewers, since it's still the best in the business, giving national advertisers tremendous bang for their buck.

What does all this mean? That you can't figure out anything this year. Considering the tough negotiations with the writers going on three months, who could have predicted the directors' guild would ink its deal with producers --- in six days of talks.

My colleague and MediaPost TV Board columnist, Jack Myers, says as a result of the strike, we might see an increase in ratings this TV season, all because networks might find some new economics to TV programming -- and hopefully new viewers.

Crazy, yes.  Still, some predicted an increase in ratings weeks ago -- at least on Fox.  With "Idol" returning with a clear path to the season finish line, industry experts had been saying Fox could perhaps produce more TV ratings points than a year ago. It doesn't look at though this will be the case.

But the last chapter of this crazy, first-year commercial-rating, strike-plagued season, hasn't been written yet.

You'd need some writers for that -- in theory, anyway



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