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The Writers’ Guild of America has voted yes to authorizing a strike if the guild’s current negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers doesn’t resolve by the May 1 deadline.
USA TODAY

Take a break, Jimmy, Jimmy and Stephen. Never mind, Melissa McCarthy, about bringing back your Sean Spicer impression to Saturday Night Live in a few weeks. Walk away, Walking Dead. And Star Trek: Discovery? You could be…well, grounded.

Those are just some of viewers’ favorite TV shows that could be affected if the Writers Guild of America — the scribblers who script the hilarity and drama of TV  — go on strike starting May 2.

But all is not lost, yet: HBO’s Game of Thrones can continue the killing and plotting because it’s already wrapped production for Season 7, premiering July 16.

The WGA members, about 6,000 writers, voted overwhelmingly Monday to authorize a strike against the Hollywood studios if the two sides do not negotiate a new contract by midnight on May 1, when the current contract expires.

The vote was largely a formality, one that most labor unions seek before heading into last-ditch negotiations, which began Tuesday between the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

Neither side wants a repeat of the last writers’ work stoppage — which lasted 100 days in 2007-2008 — so a strike might not happen.

But be prepared to watch reruns and reality shows for a while if it does. (Maybe open a book? Just a thought.)

“It’s going to be ugly is the headline,” says David Atkins, an assistant professor of film, TV and media arts at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, and a movie screenwriter (Novocaine, Arizona Dream) who is a member of the guild. “It was ugly 10 years ago, (and) it’s going to get ugly again, so everyone has a vested interest in figuring something out.”

Cable and streaming services could be more stymied by a strike than the broadcast networks, which marks a dramatic change from 10 years ago. Streaming services didn’t even exist as original programming outlets during the last strike, and cable networks produced far fewer programs at that time.

Still, networks desperate for content will turn to reruns but also to reality TV, which is actually scripted (despite what they say) but not by WGA writers.

“That was the solution 10 years ago,” Atkins says. “Networks are looking for more innovative solutions now, but there are not a whole lot of choices.”

Based on the last strike, late-night talk shows will be hobbled immediately. Besides Fallon, Kimmel and Colbert, hosts James Corden, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Bill Maher and Conan O’Brien also will be affected.

Many of these shows are written the same day they air and, crucially, the jokes are closely linked to the topical news of the day; the dawn of the Trump administration has been a boon for these shows and their writers. Reruns of old shows won’t cut it in the era of 24/7 head-slapping news that provides comedy fodder for writers.

“The reason they’re hit first and hardest is that starting on May 2, there are no writers to write material for the hosts to say,” Atkins says. “Maybe they’ll go on the air, maybe not, but it’s a very risky proposition to go on the air without material… It’s a nightmare for the hosts.”

Same goes for SNL, which, like the talk shows, has been surging in ratings thanks to the lampooning of Trump and his cohorts by the writers and by guest stars like Alec Baldwin (Trump) and McCarthy, who’s due to host and revive her feisty Spicer impersonation on May 13. But not if the writers are on strike.

Another potential casualty: Live programming such as awards shows, starting with the MTV Movie and TV Awards on May 7.

Most network primetime episodic series have finished filming for the season and wouldn’t be affected unless a strike lasts longer than a month or two, which would force delays in the fall season.

But cable and streaming services that produce year-round programming would be affected, though many – including Netflix and HBO – have longer lead times for shows, so scripts for episodes scheduled to air this summer have likely already been completed.

Thrones (premiering July 16), Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, and Showtime’s Twin Peaks revival, premiering May 21, have wrapped their next seasons so they won’t be affected.

The longer a strike persists, the more likely that network series could be affected. Even series that have banked some scripts could see truncated seasons. “If they don’t have the entire season, whether it’s 13 episodes or 26 episodes, they’re going to have much shorter seasons,” says Atkins. “Plus, writers have season arcs, how it goes from the first episode to the end of the season, so a strike could interrupt the flow of the narrative.”

Not so for shows set to begin filming in May, including the popular The Walking Dead and American Horror Story, along with Netflix’s Marvel series, Jessica Jones. Top-rated Walking Dead is beginning production this week for Season 8, which is scheduled to premiere in the fall. Although writing has already started, a strike could affect later episodes.

Another popular Showtime drama, Ray Donovan, likely would be affected. The fifth season is scheduled for the summer.

And some new series’ debuts could be thwarted by the strike, such as Star Trek: Discovery, from the new CBS All Access streaming service, which is supposed to be a coming attraction to boost the paid streaming service.