Jan. 1, 1981 -- America ended its first year in three decades without a fall TV season yesterday as a strike by the Screen Actor's Guild in Hollywood moved into its sixth month.
Networks reported having received 114 letters of protest since the season failed to materialize in September, but at least half were the result of a letter-writing campaign organized by Spelling-Goldberg Productions, sources said.
Meanwhile a rash of severe overcrowding and near-riots swept through museums, concert halls and libraries throughout the country, and Good Housekeeping magazine said the sales of macrame materials have spiralled to such an extent that yarn hoarding could reach epidemic proportions.
Toy stores recorded a consumer stampede on Scrabble and Monopoly games, now back-ordered by the millions. Spokesmen for the Census Bureau say divorces have increased 89 percent since the strike began, births are up 225 percent, and the sale of aquariums has skyrocketed overnight into the major growth industry of the '80s.
And a 30-year decline in scores on Scholastic Aptitude Tests appears suddenly to have been reversed. . . .
No new fall TV season?
The nation shudders at the thought.
Or does it?
Every time Johnny Carson precedes a joke in his monologue with the fact that a month-old strike by 5,000 Hollywood actors could mean there will be no fall TV season this year, the studio audience cheers!
"Aw, that only happened once," claims an NBC spokesman in Los Angeles. "For 30 years the American public has looked forward to picnics to on Labor Day and new fall television shows."
Right. Right. People are mad with anticipation over the arrivals of programs like "Flamingo Road," "Bosom Buddies" and Enos," or the return of Sheriff Lobo. They can hardly wait.If the striking Screen Actor's Guild is hoping that mass disappointment in the lack of a new TV season will give them an added bargaining point, they may wind up massdisappointed themselves.
In fact, there is a school of thought in the industry, now that says televsion networks will actually make money on the strike. They may only have to reduce the rates they charge advertisers by a small amount, but the "product" they put on the air -- whether reruns of old shows or so-called "reality" nonfiction programming -- will cost them much less.
"That's assuming the advertisers and the public will buy that stuff," notes Kim Fellner, SAG spokesman in Hollywood, fresh from a day of picketing at the Disney Studios. "None of the networks are in such a great position as they would like the public to think."
But since industry wisdom has it that the public doesn't watch programs but instead watches television , it will be a big shock to many in the business if there is a substantial drop in viewership even without those new shows that are allegedly so dear to the national heart.
Already the networks have announced interim schedules to fill in where the fall shows were supposed to be starting on Sept. 8. ABC will vamp with reruns and movies; Nbc has decided to go ahead with its centerpiece miniseries "Shotgun" starting Sept. 15. CBS announced Friday a schedule for Sept. 15-21 that features first-run movies like "Foul Play," series repeats, and reruns of specials with Carol Burnett, Dolly Parton and Bugs Bunny.
If the strike ends Wednesday, as there is an outside chance it will, a new TV season could be launched within three to six weeks, sources say if the strike ended Oct. , insiders think there could be a new TV season no later than Dec. 1. Parts of some series episodes have already been produced; with the Hollywood machine at full tilt and everyone on overtime, the advertiser demand for new programming (which matters much more to the networks than a perhaps imaginary public demand) could be met by December.
What will the networks put on TV if the strike goes on? Reruns, movies, events produced by the news departments, nonfiction shows like "Real People" and "That's Incredible!" and more movies. Network sources tend to deny they have secret contingency plans should the strike go on well into the fall and winter, but undoubtedly they do. Daytime soaps and game shows could suddenly spawn nighttime versions, since the unions involved in these are not on strike.
Ironically, NBC stands to gain the most from the strike; sources say president and chief executive officer Fred Silverman could at last "get the leg up" he's been trying for: Out of 22 hours of prime-time programming each week, NBC has 11 that are not dependent on actors and the striking union for production-shows like "Real People," "speak Up America," "NBC Magazine With David Brinkley" and slots for theatrical movies already bought. Knowledgeable sources say NBC has the biggest stockpile of unseen programs, scores of pilots for comedy and drama shows commissioned by Silverman and produced but never shown on the air, presumably because they were too dreadful even for NBC.
NBC could maintain the illusion of a substantially new schedule through the end of November, which is probably longer than either of the other two networks could do it. CBS stands to lose the most, since it ended last season as number one and would suffer the greatest from a loss of momentum.
But Freddie has "Shotgun." Freddie has The World Series. And Freddie has the Emmy Awards on Sept 7, although these may be a bust since dozens of prominent actors -- including Henry Winkler, Ed, Asner, James Garner, Alan Alda, Loretta Swit, Carroll O'Connor and Kristy McNichol -- decided last week to boycott the ceremonies as a solidarity measure.
Silverman once promised that NBC would be the No. 1 network by the end of this year. For the first time since he took over the company, that promise now has aghost of a chance of being fulfilled.
One procedural problem will lie in deciding when the season starts. NBC is bound to claim the season starts on Sept. 15, when its season starts "Shotgun." A source at one network says, "The season starts when we deem it to start." Actually, though, like most everything in television, this will probably be decided by the omnipotent Nielsens. Once the strike is over, Nielsen will pick a week in which the majority of the programming on all thre networks is new. That will be called the start of the season for rating purposes.
At the moment, people in TV production are nervous. The mood could turn to terror.If the strike continues for a very long time, the networks could begin to impose what is known in the biz as the force majeure clause. This almost universal contract stipulation says that if an act of God should intercede and make such a move necessary, a network can reduce the number of shows it has agreed to buy form a producer -- from 22 to 19, for instance, or from nine to none.
"They're months away from wanting to do that," an industry lawyer says; but if it happens, the production companies would be candidates for cardiac arrest. i
Otherwise, the economic fallout from the strike and whatever agreements are reached will be passed along from the production companies to the networks through increases in the licensing fees they charge them for programs. This in turn could mean higher advertising rates and, psossibly, increases in retail prices to help pay for that advertising.
It's a system, all right.
March 31, 1981 -- The TV season ended today without ever having begun, as striking actors continued to shut down production of enterainment programs for the three commerical networks.
AC. Nielsen Co., still in business, released its list of the Top 10-toped rated shows for the year. They were (1) "Crockett's Victory Garden," PBS; (2) "ABC Monday Night Football"; (3) "ABC Tuesday Night Football"; (4) "ABC Wednesday Night Football"; (5) "ABC Thursday Night Football"; (6) "ABC Friday Night Football"; (7) ABC Saturday Night Soccer"; (8) "60 Minutes," CBS; (9) "President Reagan's Inauguartion" and (10) "The Impeachment of President Reagan" (all networks). . . .
According to reports from industry insiders, the strike could be over as early as this week. Negotiators returned to the bargainning tabe at 2 p.m. Thursday. Thousands of Hoyywood craftsman and technicians have been thrown out of work, and they are now beginning to pressure the actors to bite the bullet and compromise. "With the Teamster drivers," says one irreverent wag, "it's getting to kneecap time."
However, there are other reports. There are almost as many reports as there are industry insiders. The strike could last until Thanksgiving or Christmas, or Passover; it could go on for six months, it could go on for a year.
If the stalemate is not resolved by Feb. 28, striking actors would almost surely be joined by striking writers, since the Writer's Guild contract is up then. And the Director's Guild contract is due for renewal the following month. It is not impossible that the entire entertainment industry could be shut down for an indefinite period and that the first TV season of the '80s will go down in the history books as a blank.
Of course that may be an improvement, considering the predicted caliber of the average new show. But it could also have a devastating effect on the American amusement industry and might even bring about a major recession in the supposedly recession-proof business of television.
Although SAG spokesman Fellner says the networks are taking "a very active role" in negotiations, the strike isn't really against them. It's a sign of times to come, since the pivotal issue concerns payment to actors for original programming made for pay TV, video discs and other ancillary, emerging entertainment forms.
SAG wants actors to receive a percentage of the gross revenues from such programs immediately after they are completed; the producers have offered what Fellner calls "a tiny percentage" that wouldn't be payable until after the programming had been playing or available to the public for two years. It may not sound like a major issue, but it has great significance for the future. The market for new product, insiders say.
"We're both scared of making an awful deal, and neither side really knows if it's being unreasonable," says an industry lawyer. He says SAG is asking for the shattering of a precedent -- what one producer calls "upfront residuals," percentage points of the take from "Dollar One" -- and if the actors shatter it, the writers and directors will expect similar deals when their negotiations commence early next year. That is why the single issue could prove an insurmountable obstacle for months and months to come.
At the moment, the movie studios are hardly smarting under the loss of the actors. They've laid off thousands of other personnel and are saving millions of dollars a week. "The studios had a lousy summer anyway," says one producer. "They have too much product, and this gives them a chance to play it off."
Even in television, he says, "There is a lot of economic incentive for people not to settle the strike.
Eventually, however, the tide is bound to turn the other way. If Nielsen's homes-using-television ("HUT") levels drop substantially, ad rates will have to drop too, and then the networks will really begin to wail. One source says there won't be much paid until after the November elections are over and the networks no longer have campaign-related news programming to fill in vacant holes. Then they may appeal for binding federal arbitration to bring the strike to an end.
Will the HUT levels drop?Not everyone thinks they will. "The commonly held assumption is that the HUT levels will not be as high as with first-run stuff," says Bill Behanne of Nelsen's New York headquarters. "I don't know if I buy that. We've never had a strike in the fall before.
"If the networks load up the schedule with a lot of films they haven't played before and with a lot of good stuff they have, I don't think there'll be a lot of difference between a strike HUT and a non-strike HUT."
In television, the fourth quarter of a year -- October, November, December -- is traditionally the most important and the most profitable. Behanne says the only certain effect of prolonged strike would be "a helluva lot of renegotiation and repricing" between network sales people and ad agencies over sales of time in the Bermuda Triangle of fourth quarters that may lie ahead.
Dec. 7, 1975 -- Japan declared war on the United States for the second time in this century today following the collapse of the Sony Corporation, a victim of the American public's continuing disinterest in television. . . .
Why must there be a substantial delay between the end of the strike and the start of the new TV season? It only takes five days to produce a half-hour TV film. But the networks don't like to just throw these things on the air the minute they pop out of the lab.
A couple of years ago, NBC was doing just that with some of its programs. The network business had become so cuckoo-banana that shows like the short-lived "Mrs. Columbo" were going on the air "wet," meaning fresh from processing. Once Mrs. C's producer couldn't make the deadline so the network had to air two "Quincy" shows back-to-back. At ABC, some episodes of "Battlestar Galactica" that aired on a Sunday night were still being completed on Saturday morning. It was driving everybody to the brink of madness, which may be normal operating procedure for television but which led to producer complaints about the lack of lead time networks were giving them.
Networks like to have a safety-cushion backlog of three or four series episodes in case of unforeseen problems.
Of course, they could go back to the days of live television and mount new TV versions of great American plays but -- wait a minute! We are talking heresy here, at least from a network point of view.
Then, too, not everybody in Hollywood will be able to run back to work the day the strike ends. "These people aren't sitting outside the gates waiting for the strike to be over," one source says. Many of the network and studio employees who have escaped being laid off have been urged to take their vacations now while the strike is on so the companies can operate at full once it ends; it will take some time to round them up and get them back to work.
As the strike enters its second month, there is not yet panic in Hollywood, some sources say, but despair is really beginning to get around. Hardest hit are series actors who, in typical Hollywood style, may have signed mortgages for costly new homes or indulged in other credit luxuries in anticipation of big bucks to come from television.
"It's great walking around the studio lots now," says one young independent producer, "They're like college campuses during the summer." But another mopes, "There's no joy to being in Los Angeles if you're not working."
Sept. 8, 1990 -- An uneasy quiet settled over Hollywood today as the nation began its 10th year without a fall TV season.
Stacks of antique television sets were lighted into bonfires in cities throughout the country, sometimes with citizens surrounding the blazes and singing and dancing merrily.
Among those hardest his by the death of television have been psychiatrists, the makers of fanny-hugging bluejeans, and the police who report that violent crime has dropped to almost unmeasurable levels.
Marriage counselors, however, have never been in greater demand, and contract-bridge instructors now command up to $100 an hour for their coveted services.
Walter Annenberg has agreed to sell TV Guide to Clay Felker for $755.24.
White House press secretary Jodie Foster said today that President Fred Silverman had called upon citizens to remain calm and that plans for converting Los Angeles into a miniature golf course are nearing completion.
But he failed to end more than a decade of national speculation and public curiosity when he again refused to reveal "who shot J.R.". . .