No one can know what exactly will come from this current strike—but its potential to completely alter the landscape of television, should it drag on long enough, can’t be ignored. It’s one thing to complain about the talk-show reruns, or tire of the newsmagazines and reality shows that are produced en masse, or mourn the loss of good shows axed before their time because of production issues. But those issues may be petty concerns by comparison to the future of the medium.
It’s well-accepted that a significant portion of the viewing audience never returned after the 1988 strike. That hurt the networks, but that effect was muted somewhat by other factors in play. Cable television was just starting to becoming a strong force, the Big Three were joined by FOX and other baby-nets, and TV as we knew it was changing anyhow. Audience numbers were dropping for many reasons, and the expectations of execs and advertisers were being reset. The loss of that estimated 10% of viewership was subsumed into this brave new cathode world.