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Tuning out: Missing your weekly Desperate Housewives fix?
For some, the writers strike, and fewer fresh programs, has created a chance to be more productive
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0113NOTVAUD

Monie Kersey discusses the Hollywood writers’ strike. She said she doesn’t like it, but thinks writers do have a point.

It may be a new year, but there won’t be a whole lot of new programming flickering across television screens this season. Now in its third month, the Hollywood writers’ strike just might leave many Americans idle until script writers strike a deal with producers.

NBC’s "Heroes" and "The Office" as well as ABC’s "Grey’s Anatomy" and "Desperate Housewives" are done, forcing networks to broadcast tired re-runs.

"There’s not a lot on so I go to the dining room and work on puzzles," Monie Kersey said. "I’ve been watching TV less ... and reading more."

As a fan of "The Office," Kersey said she will miss watching new episodes, but still watches "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," although she’s noticed Leno fumbles more since the show has been airing without written content.

"I think he has a harder time sometimes, even though he used to be a stand-up comedian," Kersey said. "I think the writers have a lot more impact than people think."

"The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" as well as "The Colbert Report," "Late Night with Conan O’Brien" and "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" are all scrambling to air sans writers. And without a creative writing force, the traditionally glitzy "Golden Globe Awards" airing tonight has been reduced to a mere news conference.

Although the colossal contest "American Idol" will air as usual on Tuesday, many typical television spectators are tuning out of network TV and tuning in to new hobbies.

"I don’t know what the world’s coming to," said Nina Duke. "They’ll be a lot of disappointed people who will be watching less TV and playing on the computer more."

Duke said she’ll probably resort to watching more news, and may even become more productive during that time she typically spent watching "Desperate Housewives" on Sunday nights.

Other viewers fear the inevitable influx of reality TV.

Jonathan Becerra said he believes the explosion of the genre has helped polarize audiences in favor of the writers.

"They’re trying to make a living and with all this reality madness going on, where does that put them?" Becerra said. "Who has time for reality TV? I have my own life to live."

Kersey agreed that the writers have a point.

"I hope the writers’ strike is over soon, and they get some more money," Kersey said. "I think some of the movie stars are good, but they wouldn’t be so good without the writers."

The networks have been forced to fall back on winter-spring prime-time schedules that, for many viewers, will be an unappetizing melange of repeats, a few mid-season replacement series, some recycled cable shows, newsmagazines — and a heavy dose of new and returning reality programming.

And because programmers won’t have enough fresh material to cover all their bases, you can count on an annoying amount 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.

Early 2008 schedules released by the networks this month include 27 hours a week of unscripted programming, up from 17 hours pre-strike and the most ever on network TV.

Top network executives have tried to put the best spin possible on these diminished lineups — particularly when talking to advertisers and corporate investors. Fox executives love to point out, for example, that the network will still have the Super Bowl and a whole new season of "American Idol," the most-watched show on TV.

"We are certainly not going to go dark," CBS CEO Leslie Moonves told investors earlier this month. "Ratings probably will not be as high without the influx of our great original programming. But, by the same token, costs will be down considerably" because reality shows are cheaper to make.

A recent report by the media research firm of Magna Global USA projects a 5 percent drop in network viewership in January and a 13 percent plunge if the strike lasts into the spring.

Becerra said he believes the strike will cause him to watch less television and will get him out to the gym more.

He said he plans to spend his now TV-free time taking more dance classes and networking to support his career as a make-up artist.

"I do plan on watching the ‘Golden Globes,’ though," he said. "I love seeing who’s wearing what on the red carpet, and it might make it more interesting, I think ... to see what’s different this year."

But Duke admits her Sunday nights, now without fresh episodes of "Desperate Housewives," will be spent doing something a bit more practical.

"I’ll probably do more work around the house," she said.

The Contra Costa Times, San Jose Mercury News and Marketwatch contributed to this report.

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