TV viewers hooked on suspenseful episodes of hit series such as Heroes and Grey's Anatomy could be left hanging if writers proceed with plans to go on strike.
With Hollywood writers prepared to walk Thursday, networks are scrambling for more reality TV shows, game shows, even reruns if the worst occurs.
Viewers could start seeing an onslaught of reality TV shows by early next year, as series such as Desperate Housewives and Heroes run out of episodes.
"I was in a network meeting (Monday), and they were referring to the fact the timing is good for reality producers," producer Mark Cronin said.
He and partner Cris Abrego have been consistently busy with shows such as Flavor of Love, I Love New York and The Surreal Life.
But "it's going from 50 mph to 70 mph," Cronin said, adding that networks must "protect themselves and fill their airspace."
Members of the Writers Guild of America and the group representing film and TV producers will meet this week with a mediator after scant progress in talks.
Negotiators remain far apart on the issue of raising payment for profits on DVDs and shows offered on the Internet, cellphones and other devices.
A newcomer to TV's writing ranks earns about $70,000 per season for full-time work on a show like Heroes. Veteran TV show writers who move up to a story editor position would get at least a low six-figure salary.
If writers walk out, the effect wouldn't be felt immediately. Networks have enough episodes of some shows, like CSI, Grey's Anatomy, 30 Rock and Ugly Betty, written to last at least the end of the year and possibly well into 2008.
After that, most schedules will run into trouble. That could mean a lot more reality TV shows on tap soon. Which is all good with the Scoop! We're envisioning a hybrid of The Amazing Race, Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelor next spring.