The 11-day Writers Guild of America strike against about 200 production companies and the three major networks is threatening to force some high-profile prime time TV series to wrap their seasons early.
Incomplete scripts for the final episodes of NBC-TV's top-rated "The Cosby Show" and perennial Top-10 contenders "L.A. Law" and "Cheers" may force the popular shows to close down production, Pat Schultz, an NBC spokeswoman, acknowledged Wednesday.
However, most prime time series have remained unaffected by the strike, she and other network officials said.
"At this point," Schultz said, "the majority of NBC's prime time schedule is unaffected. Two of our shows ('Cosby' and 'L.A. Law') may have to shut down with two episodes to go."
"Cheers," she said, may close down with one show unfinished.
The script crunch came to a head Wednesday after the New York-based Eastern branch of the 9,000-member union joined the Los Angeles-based Western branch and tabled "until a future time" requests by as many as 50 smaller independent production companies for separate or so-called "interim" contracts.
Interim contracts would have allowed the production companies to continue hiring and dealing with writers during the strike with the understanding that the producers would abide by any eventual contract.
Producers of both "The Cosby Show" and "L.A. Law" had sought interim agreements.
The guild's action at least left the door ajar for reconsideration of the interim contracts, but previous experience suggests that the writers may not want to break ranks. No such waivers were granted in the guild's two-week 1985 strike.
Some waivers were granted in a longer 1981 walkout, but that decision sparked an internal debate among union officials about the wisdom of the strategy.
Guild spokeswoman Cheryl Rhoden said the Board of Directors based its decision on the nearly unanimous support of the guild's rank-and-file members.
Foreign Unions' Support
In a related development, officials of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists and the Writers Guild of Great Britain told their members Wednesday not to work on U.S. films and TV programs for which they were hired after the writers' strike began.
The strike has already affected daytime serials, talk shows, game shows, specials and some new programs. NBC's "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" continues in reruns tonight and Friday, Shultz said. It was among the shows that had sought a waiver from the union to resume production.
"Cosby" is expected to finish shooting its 23rd episode in New York today out of a planned 25 for the season. "L.A. Law" has completed 20 of 22 shows, and "Cheers" has shot its 25th program out of a planned 26. (A traditional network order is for 22 shows a season, which means that among NBC's programs, only "L.A. Law" will be producing fewer episodes than usual as a result of the strike.)
The situation was not so clear at ABC-TV, however. Spokesman Jim Brochu declined to discuss a report that "Moonlighting"--which traditionally has had a very short lead time between the shooting and airing of its episodes--may be forced to shut down production for the remainder of the season."
'In Good Shape'
"We're in good shape across the board on our prime time series," he said. "We don't expect to have many disruptions at all."
CBS-TV appears in the best shape of the three major networks. Although it has postponed at least two new programs and cut back on others, its stable of established prime time entertainment shows appears unaffected by the strike.
Said a CBS spokesman: "All of our shows have either finished production or are fully written."