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precarious since 1997 | by maryann johanson

TV without writers: a nightmare scenario

The strike by television and film writers continues into its seventh week, with no end in sight. I happen to know, thanks to a mysterious informant from the future, that it’s going to last at least another six months, and that the impact upon television is going to be dire, with the networks forced to resort to unscripted shows to fill their schedules.

My time-travelling spy tells me that ratings aren’t looking so hot in the summer of 2008, and that the networks are likely going to have to refund advertisers for the shortfall in viewers (as they’re starting to have to do right now). And here’s why. These are the top-rated shows for the week ending July 13, 2008:
Monday night: American Idle (reality; viewers: 1,543,184). How are TV fans coping with an utter lack of anything to watch? This Fox hit introduces us to enterprising Americans who are inventing creative new ways to sit around and do nothing. In this episode: an Indiana man who developed a new kind of yoga virtually indistinguishable from sleep; the new craze for vegetate-mediatation.

Tuesday night: Ultimate Shopping List Extreme Supermarket Challenge (game show; viewers: 1,953,013). Two lists, two shoppers, two hours to stock up to feed a family of four for a week on $100. Who’ll stretch their shopping dollars the furthest? Hosted by your favorite CBS stars! This week: The NCIS cast presented the winner with a bonus gallon of milk (value: $8.79).

Wednesday night: World’s Most Wrenching Celebrity Child Custody Battles (newsmagazine; viewers: 1,242,954). Your weekly in-depth exploration of the trials and tribulations of the superrich and famous in family court. From NBC News. This week: a California judge attempts to remove Britney’s new fetus from its unfit environment.

Thursday night: America’s Funniest Medical Mistakes (audience-participation; viewers: 1,423,531). Viewers from around the nation send in videos, X-rays, MRIs, and other material to share, because laughter is the best medicine! In this installment, a Minnesota woman who got a nose reduction instead of a breast reduction; a New York artist made color blind by an eyewash mixup; more! Only on the CW.

Friday night: Sittin’ on My Couch Like I Do (amateur sitcom; viewers: 1,548,361). The YouTube phenomenon continues its run on NBC! In this episode, Jake and the gang are forced to ponder the meaning of life when Pizza Delivery Guy accidentally brings them pepperoni-and-pineapple instead of sausage-and-salsa. Visit nbc.com/sittinonmycouchlikeido to enter the “Guess Which Striking WGA Writer Anonymously Created the Show” contest.

Saturday night: Taser Tag (game show; viewers: 1,853,913). Teams from elementary schools across America compete for cash and prizes in exciting venues; an exclusive from ABC Sports. In this episode, the George Washington K-6 Generals from Maple Hills, Vermont, defeated the Shuttles of Christa McAuliffe Primary of Plano, Texas, atop the Hoover Dam. This week’s stats: Casualites, fifteen minor, four major. Deaths, none (for the third straight week!).

Sunday night: Face of the Virgin Mary in Static (religious; viewers: 874,932). By popular demand, the test pattern from South Dakota’s KIRT-12 overnight off-air returns to Fox for another four-hour primetime block. Split-screened during hour two: Religious scholars debate whether the face might actually be that of Concordius of Spoleto, an obscure 1st-century Roman saint.

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