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Strike Zone: 24 86ed, Office Downsized; Will It Be Short or Long?; Send in Ari Gold!

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Better reset that clock. Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Fox

Let’s take care of the morning’s strike news in a hail of bullets:

* The strike is already claiming its first schedule victims. Fox has postponed season 7 of 24 (disaster or silver lining?) so that it can be aired in its entirety whenever the strike ends. The network also announced a new winter-spring schedule, which, surprisingly, is not simply “American Idol, Monday-Friday, 8 to 10 p.m. E.T.” Maureen Ryan has the insanely baroque programming plan. Also, The Office, which suffered several defections from its writer-actors, as well as star Steve Carell, who refused to cross the picket line, has shut down production and airs its last new episode a week from tonight.

* So that’ll get the strike ended quick, right? Right? Eh… not so fast. News analyses of the situation are coming in, and the consensus seems to be: either the strike ends fast–in a couple weeks fast–or it’ll end sloooow: like, next summer slow. (In June, the directors’ and actors’ contracts expire.) The main reason: beyond a certain point, not only do both sides get more bitter and locked in to their positions (e.g., the longer you wait, the better you expect your deal to be), but the networks start assuming the whole 2007-08 season is a loss, anyway. And with most new shows lukewarm successes at best and overall viewership flagging, they won’t necessarily mind the “do over.” Networks have even begun to suggest that they could break even, or better, on a strike, because lower production expenses will offset advertising losses.

I’m not saying they’re right, mind you. This kind of thinking is probably shortsighted. Possibly crazy. (Let’s stop making TV shows altogether! We’ll be rich!) In my column in the print TIME tomorrow, I write about how a long strike could cram years of audience attrition into a matter of months. But I’m not calling the shots. Variety offers its soon-or-June analysis here. If you’re one of those–like much of the Writer’s Guild–who consider the trade magazines to be tools of the studios, then read Nikki Finke, whose Deadline Hollywood Daily has become a sort of agora for striking writers, but who makes essentially the same prediction, and urges both sides to step back from the “horrific situation.”

* But that’s not the most interesting part of Finke’s post; she offers a solution to the strike so ingenious and intuitive that there must be some major problem with it that I’m too dumb to think of. Have the agents work it out! “For crissakes,” she writes, “these people negotiate for a living on behalf of clients like the writers. And they’re licensed by the state. And they make multi-million dollar deals based on their word.” With passions running so high, what this strike needs may just be a bunch of avaricious smooth-talkers who realize nothing on God’s earth is worth keeping you from making a dollar. Is there really any problem here that Ari Gold couldn’t B.S. his way out of?