Reality TV To The Rescue? Amid Writers’ Strike, ABC And Fox Lean On Unscripted Shows

Television history is repeating itself.

The last time members of the Writers Guild of America put down their pens and picked up picket signs, a period that spanned 100 days from 2007 to 2008, it prompted a reality TV boon as existing and new unscripted programs filled in the gaps popular sitcoms and dramas left behind.

This week, amid the current WGA strike, ABC has released its upcoming fall schedule and Fox has offered a look what’s to come with its annual upfront pitch, revealing a partial slate of shows expected for 2023-2024—and it’s clear both networks intend to lean on unscripted shows as a means of mitigating the impact of the strike once again.

But will it work again?

Over at Fox, the attempt to make it work means that, while dramas like 9-1-1: Lone Star, The Cleaning Lady and Alert: Missing Persons Unit are still considered a go for now, as is the sitcom Animal Control, and the network’s block of prime-time animated series, unscripted shows will return across the board. Farmer Wants a Wife, Hell’s Kitchen, I Can See Your Voice, LEGO Masters, The Masked Singer, Name That Tune, Next Level Chef and Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test are all getting another season.

Fox also announced a new musical game show called We Are Family, hosted by both Jamie Foxx and his daughter, Corinne Foxx. But that wasn’t the biggest news of the upfronts. Also joining the network’s reality TV menu is a once-loved show that’s been off the air for nearly a decade—Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.

ABC hopes to keep viewers tuning in by filling out its fall schedule with game shows, including Celebrity Jeopardy, Celebrity Wheel of Fortune, Press Your Luck and The $1000,000 Pyramid. Judge Steve Harvey, America’s Funniest Home Videos and hidden-camera series What Would You Do? are among other unscripted efforts.

Reality TV fans can look forward to new seasons of The Bachelor in Paradise and Shark Tank, as well as the return of Dancing With the Stars, which spent Season 31 on Disney Plus, and the addition of new and intriguing senior love match series, The Golden Bachelor.

But the fall schedule will also boast reruns of one the networks most beloved series, the Emmy darling Abbott Elementary, and at least one writer finds that part of the schedule very telling when it comes to whether or not the scramble of unscripted shows alongside it can really see that or any other network through the strike.

Eric Haywood, TV writer and WGA (West) board member, posted a copy of the ABC fall schedule on Twitter Tuesday night, noting that he “honestly can’t get over” it.

In subsequent tweets, he explained, “First and foremost, the ‘Abbott Elementary repeats’ thing sticks out to me like a sore thumb. I could be wrong, but it feels like a clear indication that broadcast networks like ABC couldn’t let go of scripted shows if they wanted to. Because if they wanted to, they would. To me, they’ve shown their hand with this schedule. They KNOW their audience craves scripted stories. They can’t just take it away entirely. So they shoehorn reruns of their biggest hit into their fall schedule in hopes that their audience doesn’t completely abandon them.”

Haywood believes that without scripted shows, ABC and other traditional networks will be left vulnerable during the strike, giving an advantage to streaming networks with banks of content to watch on-demand.

“No disrespect to the people who I’m sure will be working hard on, say, Golden Bachelor or whatever,” he wrote. “But at a certain point audiences will probably go looking for scripted stories again. And they’re not gonna find them on ABC. Or NBC. Or CBS. So the streamers that are lying in wait to devour these legacy companies and/or run them out of business just got handed the fall TV audience on a silver platter.”

All because, as he puts it, the networks “would rather stick it to writers than pay them fairly.”

Haywood doesn’t envision reality TV saving the day for networks this time. He only sees a fairly-negotiated end to the strike as a solution, and he’s certain network bigwigs will see that, too, soon enough.

“When these CEOs talk about being ‘we’ll-positioned to survive the strike,’ they mean ‘We’ve got hours and hours of America’s Funniest Home Videos on deck,’” Haywood added. “And when people decide they’d rather go back and re-watch Stranger Things than Judge Steve Harvey or Racist Puppies of Beverly Hills or whatever, they’re gonna wonder where it all went wrong.”

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