There won't be any more new episodes of the syndicated courtroom show Judge Hatchett. Sony Pictures Television, which produces the program, will keep selling reruns -- it's offering local TV stations week-long packages of shows based on themes like divorce. With eight seasons' worth of shows in the can, Sony can probably keep Judge Hatchett on the air for a while with that strategy.
It looks like late-night TV will back at full strength on Jan. 2. ABC's Jimmy Kimmel has announced he'll return with live programs that night, joining NBC's Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien, also coming back on the same date. And David Letterman's production company Worldwide Pants (which also owns Craig Ferguson's wee-hours show) says it expects to have strike a deal with the writers in time for a Jan. 2 return as well.
If Worldwide Pants' negotiations are successful, Letterman and Ferguson's programs would be the only late-night shows (including Last Call With Carson Daly, which is already back in production) to be using its regular writing staff. Another advantage: More stars to choose from, since they would be able to appear on Letterman or Ferguson's shows without crossing a writers' picket line.
NBC announced Monday that even though the writers' strike is continuing, its late-night hosts Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien will return to the air on Jan. 2. Somehow or other -- the network didn't explain it -- they'll do their shows without writers. That will mean NBC's full late-night schedule is back on the air: Last Call With Carson Daly returned to production a couple of weeks ago.
Meanwhile, executives at Worldwide Pants, the company that produces Dave Letterman's show, confirmed that they're interested in negotiating a deal with the Writers Guild separate from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the industry alliance that's been directing the contract talks. The writers announced over the weekend that they'll try to outflank the AMPTP by signing agreements with individual companies. That may work with Letterman's show, wholly owned by the relatively small Worldwide Pants. But because most prime-time shows are owned either by the networks or the big studios who are the cornerstone of the AMPTP, it seems unlikely that divide-and-conquer will be successful for the writers as an overall strategy. The strike will not end anytime soon.
The first shows to go dark when Hollywood's writers went on strike were the late-night variety programs. Viewers soon grew bored with reruns, and a couple of weeks ago, ABC's Nightline won the late-night ratings battle for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. Last week it happened a second time -- and suddenly the late-night hosts are getting a little worried. One result: CBS is now billing next week's collection of David Letterman reruns as a "best of" series -- "the most memorable appearances by Letterman's favorite women." They include reruns of shows with Madonna, Cher, Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey and Drew Barrymore.
UPDATE: Worry may be turning to panic. Variety reports that Letterman and other late-night hosts are getting ready to return to work.
ABC had so little regard for his signature sitcom, as it came to the end of its nine-year run, that the episodes were burned off two-a-week during the summer. His last three programs, game shows and improv comedies, all crashed and burned quickly. But Drew Carey is suddenly hot again. Not only has he taken over as host of The Price Is Right, but he's got a new game show -- The Power Of 10 -- set to debut in January, and ABC Family has revived his improv program Whose Line Is It Anyway. And now the Ion Network is bringing back The Drew Carey Show, starting with an eight-episode marathon New Years Eve. After that, two episodes will air each weeknight, Monday through Thursday, at 9 p.m.
If eyeballs and ears were votes, the presidential nominees would be Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The Nielsen Company says those two have aired far and away more radio and TV ads than any of their competitors in the presidential campaign. By mid-November, Romney had placed 17,849 commercials this year, more than four times all the other Republican candidates combined. And Obama's 10,311 ran far ahead of runner-up Hillary Clinton's 7,839 among the Democrats.
A common complaint about the news media is that it overlooks good news in favor of bad. But showcasing the former certainly didn't pay off for CNN. Its heavily promoted four airings of Heroes last week, which spotlighted people with extraordinary accomplishments chosen by viewers, all tanked. The most successful edition, on Dec. 6, drew less than 600,000 viewers and ranked as the No. 71 show on cable news nets for the week.
The latest round of talks between writers and TV bosses broke down over the weekend with a lot of bad-mouthing on both sides. No further negotiations are expected until after the first of the year, and it's starting to seem unlikely that this season's scripted dramas will resume. Given the time it takes to write new scripts, then produce the actual shows, unless there's a prompt settlement right after the holidays, the networks may seriously consider giving up on dramas for the rest of the season. Sitcoms, which work with a shorter lead time, probably have a little more breathing space.
But they, too, face another unspoken threat: that all the reality and game shows the networks plan to introduce after the first of the year to fill dead air will find an audience. If those shows, which are so much cheaper to produce, draw large numbers of viewers, the networks -- particularly NBC and The CW, already battered by low ratings -- may decide to drastically cut back on scripted shows.
At least one of the various labor problems plaguing television has been settled peaceably. ABC has just signed a new four-year contract with the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, the union that represents newswriters, engineers and some other workers -- about 1100 in all -- at the network's owned-and-operated affiliates in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Chicago. Though the talks took 10 months (the old agreement expired in March) and there have been rumblings of a strike during the past few weeks, the employees never actually walked out.
ABC cameraman Ralph Binder, who started with the network 33 years ago, was killed Thursday while driving from Denver to Omaha to cover the mall shooting story there. Binder was traveling with soundman Dan Johnson when their car swerved to avoid an out-of-control car on Interstate 80 near Grand Island, Nebraska. Johnson was treated at a local hospital and released.
It's been less than a year since another ABC cameraman, Doug Vogt, suffered extensive shrapnel wounds to the head in the same ambush in Iraq that nearly killed network anchor Bob Woodruff.