The writers’ strike has done a number on
By CHUCK BARNEY
If only Rod Serling were around to usher us into television’s midseason madness. He might introduce it this way:
“You’re about to travel through another dimension — a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of reruns, rejects and reality shows. It’s a less-than-wondrous land whose restrictive boundaries are imposed by striking scribes and the greedy philistines for whom they toil. Yes, you’re about to cross over into ... the TV Twilight Zone.”
That’s pretty much how it will feel for viewers during the next few weeks and months as the unpleasant reverberations of the writers’ walkout begin to wreak havoc with prime time.
Until now, the strike has had only scant impact on the network’s lineups. But with the supply of fresh episodes having run dry — or about to — for most popular dramas and comedies, those lineups suddenly will take on a very different look and feel to them.
The biggest change will be an extraordinary number of unscripted shows, a genre largely unaffected by the strike. From tests of physical prowess (“American Gladiators”) to nerve-racking tests involving lie detectors (“The Moment of Truth”), reality will rule.
And because programmers won’t have enough fresh material to cover all their bases, you can count on an annoying number of reruns. Friday, for example, will become a dumping ground as Fox plans to air repeats of “Bones” and “House,” and ABC will go with “encores” of various dramas.
To be sure, the networks will have some fresh scripted fare — including a few new shows — to trot out, but the quality level could be iffy. The Fox crime series “New Amsterdam” was originally pegged to the fall schedule, but was delayed because of creative problems and then had its episode order cut from 13 to seven. Meanwhile, ABC is bringing back “According to Jim,” a tired sitcom that was initially canceled.
Fortunately, viewers will be able to count on a few old reliables. The strike-proof “American Idol” will return, and should put a stranglehold on the Nielsens once again. Also on the way are fresh seasons of “Law & Order,” “Survivor,” “Dancing With the Stars” and “Lost,” although the last could be reduced to only eight episodes by the strike.
Here’s a rundown of the major midseason offerings.
U“Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” (8 p.m. Jan. 13, Fox; moves to 9 p.m. Mondays, Jan. 14) — The “Terminator” franchise — minus Arnold — comes to the small screen and tells the story of Sarah’s (Lena Headey) struggle to kick cyborg butt and make the world safe for her son.
U“Comanche Moon” (9 p.m., Jan. 13, CBS) — This miniseries prequel to Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove” follows our beloved Texas Rangers in their middle years. The six-hour running time could make some viewers saddle sore.
U“American Idol” (8 p.m. Jan. 15 and 16, Fox) — Who’s the next Carrie Underwood — or Sanjaya? TV’s No. 1 show tries to hit the high notes again.
U“Lost” (9 p.m. Jan. 31, ABC) — Are rescuers really on the way? Will Ben ever die? What’s up with Jack’s wacky beard? We have questions. Let’s hope they have some answers.
U“Jericho” (10 p.m. Feb. 12, CBS) — Passionate fans plus plenty of peanut power the resurrection of this apocalyptic drama. At least for seven more episodes.
U“Law & Order” (returned 9 p.m. Jan. 2, NBC; moves to 10 p.m. Wednesdays, Jan. 9) — The revolving door keeps spinning as Jeremy Sisto and Linus Roache join the ancient crime series for its 18th season. Also, Sam Waterston becomes the new D.A.
U“Medium” (10 p.m. Jan. 7, NBC) — Anjelica Huston joins the show for a six-episode guest-starring arc, as Allison (Patricia Arquette) sees more dead people.
U“One Tree Hill” (8 p.m. Jan. 8, The CW; moves to 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Jan. 15) — In a bizarre move, the story jumps ahead four years with the gang entering post-college life. So they totally got to skip their finals?
U“The New Adventures of Old Christine” (9:30 p.m. Feb. 4, CBS) — Emmy-winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus launches a third season of single-mom shenanigans.
U“Survivor: Micronesia” (8 p.m. Feb. 7, CBS) — The reality franchise reinvents itself once again as “superfans” take on favorites from the past.
U“Big Brother” (9 p.m. Feb. 12, CBS) — How desperate is CBS for fresh material? They’re bringing this summer house party to winter for the first time.
U“Cashmere Mafia” (10 p.m. Jan. 6, ABC; moves to 10 p.m. Wednesdays, Jan. 9) — A “Sex and the City” wannabe about alpha female executives in New York. The cast features Lucy Liu.
U“Eli Stone” (10 p.m. Jan. 31, ABC) — A San Francisco lawyer (Jonny Lee Miller) discovers he has mind-blowing prophetic powers and decides to use them for good.
U“Lipstick Jungle” (10 p.m. Feb. 7, NBC) — Another “Sex and the City”-esque offering about three high-powered women (Brooke Shields, Kim Raver and Lindsay Price) in the Big Apple.
U“Quarterlife” (9 p.m. Feb. 18, NBC) — A Web-based drama about a group of post-college twentysomethings, from the creators of “My So-Called Life.”
U“New Amsterdam” (9 p.m. Feb. 22, Fox) — Thanks to an ancient Indian spell, a New York City cop (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is immortal. Oh, but it’s more of a curse than a blessing.
U“Canterbury’s Law” (9 p.m. April 11, Fox) — “ER” alum Julianna Margulies plays a feisty defense attorney who doesn’t mind bending a few rules to protect the wrongfully accused.
U“Welcome to the Captain” (8:30 p.m. Feb. 4, CBS) — Jeffrey Tambor and Raquel Welch star in this tale of eccentric residents living in a fabled Hollywood apartment building.
U“Unhitched” (9:30 p.m. March 2, Fox) — A group of newly single thirtysomethings (including Craig Bierko and Rashida Jones) dive back into the dating pool. Hilarity supposedly ensues.
U“The Return of Jezebel James” (8:30 p.m. March 7, Fox) — Parker Posey and Lauren Ambrose star in a tale of estranged sisters having a baby together.
U“The Celebrity Apprentice” (9 p.m., Jan. 3) — The Donald turns to has-beens such as Gene Simmons and Nadia Comaneci to revive his sagging series.
U“American Gladiators” (9 p.m. Jan. 6, NBC; moves to 8 p.m. Mondays, Jan. 7) — A revival of the cheesy 1990s spectacle in which brave amateurs take on buffed-up pros and try to avoid ’roid rage. Hulk Hogan and Laila Ali host.
U“Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann” (8 p.m. Jan. 7, ABC) — “Dancing With the Stars” judges field their own teams in a rumba-licious ballroom battle.
U“The Moment of Truth” — (9 p.m. Jan. 23, Fox) — A game show that straps contestants to a lie detector and asks them very personal questions. Alas, our presidential candidates won’t be playing.
U“The Baby Borrowers” (8 p.m. Feb. 18, NBC)— Teens put down their video games to play house with their own homes, jobs and kids to care for.
U“Oprah’s Big Give” (9 p.m. March 2, ABC) — TV’s daytime queen forks over big bucks to needy families.
U“When Women Rule the World” (8 p.m. March 3, Fox) — Men accustomed to calling the shots are forced to submit to take-charge females in a new “society.”
U“The Wire” (9 p.m. Jan. 6, HBO) — The acclaimed crime series returns for its fifth and final season with an emphasis on the media.
U“The L Word” (10 p.m. Jan. 6, Showtime) — The soapy sapphic drama is back — and so is Cybill Shepherd.
U“Reno 911!” (10:30 p.m. Jan. 16, Comedy Central) — The bumbling cops return for a fifth season, once again making their town safe for criminals.
U“Breaking Bad” (10 p.m. Jan. 20, AMC) — A new drama about a high school teacher (Bryan Cranston) struggling through the “worst midlife crisis ever.”
U“In Treatment” (9:30 p.m. Jan. 28, HBO) — A new comedy about a seemingly successful psychotherapist (Gabriel Byrne) whose life is falling apart.