As Hollywood Strikes Roll On, Viewers Catch Up With a TV Glut


With Hollywood’s labor disputes grinding on, and virtually all production stopped, anxiety began creeping into Zain Habboo’s house in Chevy Chase, Md.

She and her husband had recently finished the latest season of HBO’s “The Righteous Gemstones,” but now they were worried that new episodes of favorite shows like “The Handmaid’s Tale” would be significantly delayed.

What on earth were they going to watch?

Ms. Habboo, 49, quickly realized she had options. She might revisit classics like “30 Rock” and “Arrested Development” with her 17-year-old son. She could join him in watching a show he’s bingeing, like all 62 episodes of “Breaking Bad.” She has also never seen any of the “Mission Impossible” movies, and she has barely made a dent in the Oscar-nominated films from the past four or five years.

For many viewers, the writers’ and actors’ strikes in Hollywood will soon be felt in the form of altered film release schedules and prime-time lineups littered with game shows, reality TV and reruns.

At the same time, the pause in new scripted material provides a moment for many viewers to catch up after the breakneck pace of the so-called Peak TV era, when dozens of shows were premiering each month.

“I have a Netflix queue that is so deep and so long, it would take me months or a year or two to go through it all,” said Dan Leonhardt, a 44-year-old engineer who lives in Copenhagen. “And that’s just Netflix! I also have a Max subscription.”

The slowdown will represent a major shift from recent years, when viewers were inundated with a fire hose of content — a record 599 new television scripted premieres last year.

On almost a daily basis, audiences found themselves clicking past new shows on their TVs, often ones they had never heard of, trying to figure out from a one-sentence description whether a series like “Altered Carbon” on Netflix or “The Path” on Hulu was worth their time.

For streaming services, the strategy was straightforward: The more shows they produced, the more chances they had to attract subscribers. The number of people who watched any one show wasn’t as important as the number of people who paid for the service.

So the promise of a constant flow of new stuff became a hallmark of the streaming era. One of the outstanding questions as the labor stalemate goes on has been whether viewers would start to cancel subscriptions to streaming services en masse when fewer new shows and movies became available.

For many, though, a slower output is just fine, giving them time to pick their way through streaming libraries, one missed TV series and movie at a time.

Emily Nidetz, a 41-year-old in Madison, Wis., said she was relieved that production for reality series had not been affected and that there were still plenty of sports to watch. And though she is worried about a slowdown in prestige shows, she said she could always stop by a Facebook community page for The Ringer’s podcast “The Watch” to get some ideas.

“If you go to the Facebook page and write, ‘Hey, I really loved “The Bear,” tell me what to watch,’ there will be like 400 replies,” she said.

Tasha Quinn, a 36-year-old therapist from Chicago, said there was a moment last year when she was so overwhelmed by the conveyor belt of new series that she finally had to take a break. HBO’s “House of the Dragon” was the breaking point.

“I made it through two episodes, and didn’t finish it,” she said. “There was too much hype, and there were a lot of other things coming out at the same time. I was like, nope, I’m too overwhelmed, I’m too overstimulated, I’ll just go back to my comfort shows. I’m going to go watch ‘The Office.’”

Ms. Quinn said that the labor disputes had worried her briefly because new episodes of the dystopian workplace drama “Severance” on AppleTV+ would be delayed — but that she then quickly thought of the upside.

“I can take my time without everyone talking about what’s coming next,” she said, adding that she’s currently wrapping up “Succession.”

The length of the labor disputes will determine the length of the disruption. Actors have been on strike since July 14. Writers have been walking picket lines for more than 100 days. Formal talks between the writers and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of the studios, were held on Friday for the first time since early May. No talks involving the actors are scheduled.

Third-party researchers believe that most of the streaming services should be well insulated if the strikes last another month or two — though that risk rises the longer production is shut down. The amount of content in their streaming libraries was one reason the studios initially said they could weather the strikes, at least in the short term, a pointed message to writers and actors currently going without paychecks. (For instance, “Suits,” a USA Network show that went off the air in 2019, has recently surged in popularity on Netflix.)

Leaders of the Writers Guild of America, the union that represents thousands of striking screenwriters, recently said it was “disinformation” that the strike would have “no impact because streaming services have libraries and some product in the pipeline.”

“It is not a viable business strategy for these companies to shut down their business for three months — and counting — no matter how much they try and pretend it is,” they said in a note to members.

Many viewers say they support the striking writers and actors. Ms. Habboo said she believed they were not being fairly compensated, and “that is a huge bummer.”

Still, when asked if she would cut any of her streaming subscriptions, she was emphatic. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she said. “Canceling is never an option.”

Mel Russo, a 56-year-old yoga teacher who lives in Brooklyn, said the Max service alone “could keep you busy for the next 10 years, to be honest.”

“I think it’s disgusting what’s going on,” she added. “But I am not in dire straits about it as a watcher and as a lover of entertainment.”

The streaming services seem keen to capitalize. Last month, Netflix rolled out a new banner, “10 Years of Netflix Series,” which presents viewers with dozens of older titles from its library.

Eric Martinez, a 25-year-old video producer who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, had been a big fan of the HBO series “Euphoria.” But the earliest that show will return for its third season is now 2025, so he went looking for an alternative.

On his Amazon Prime page, Mr. Martinez had been seeing a tile for the show “The Boys” for some time. The superhero series was one he thought he had no interest in. But with time on his hands, he finally took the plunge. “I’m enjoying it, and I’m glad I started it,” he said.

Not all the viewers need a new old show to watch.

Brenda Stewart, a 71-year-old Nebraskan, said she and her husband often fired up their Roku and watched reruns of older series including “CSI” and “Murder, She Wrote.” She’s also a big fan of rewatching movies like “The Lion King” and other Disney classics.

Ms. Stewart, who has six grandchildren, said it was not uncommon to have “Bluey” episodes playing again and again in her house when the children were over. And, sometimes, it’s not exclusively for the little ones.

“It’s a cartoon series for kids, but I’m not going to lie — it’s also for adults,” she said, laughing. “There’s stuff in there that just makes me chuckle.”



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