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Writers’ strike quickly impacts TV production

In less than a week, the writer’s strike began having an impact, shutting down television productions that depend on topical material. Among the first to go into reruns were Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” as well late night staples including “The Late Show with David Letterman” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

Prime-time programming was affected on a show-by-show basis. Some scripted dramas and sitcoms will remain in production since producers have stockpiled scripts that will last through the first of the year. After that, they will shut down as well.

Other prime-time fare, including a half dozen sitcoms, didn’t make it past the first week of the strike. Fox said it would indefinitely postpone the start of the seventh season of “24” to ensure an uninterrupted 24-episode season. NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” wrapped production last week after it ran out of new scripts. ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” also ended production last week.

Original episodes of NBC’s comedy “The Office” will stop after the Nov. 15 show. Production of the show was shut down after the writers, several of whom are also actors on the show, began picketing, and Steve Carell, the lead actor, refused to cross the lines.

In many cases, writers who also serve as executive producers of their shows — known as show runners — had to contend with divided loyalties. As members of the Writers Guild, they were on strike against their own shows.

However, as producers, they are were expected by the networks and studios to perform their contractual duties, like editing episodes that are already filmed and casting episodes that have not been filmed yet. Some show runners, like Shawn Ryan of “The Shield” on FX and “The Unit” on CBS, refused to perform any of their editing duties while on strike as a writer.

Last week, two studios — 20th Century Fox and CBS Paramount — sent breach-of-contract letters to show runners who stopped performing when the strike began, the “New York Times” reported.

Fox notified the writer-producers that their pay was being suspended in response to their failure “to report to work and render their nonwriting producing services.”

The more than 12,000 members of the Writers Guild West and the Writers Guild East went on strike just after midnight on Nov. 6. The most contentious issues at dispute is how much writers should be paid when their programs and movies are shown on DVD, the Internet, and new-media devices like mobile phones and iPods.

The strike issues are especially important because any resolution will also affect the contracts of actors and directors, whose contracts will expire next year.