Where has all the TV gone?

This fall’s TV lineup leaves eyelids descending as writers join the picket line.

Have you found yourself watching suspiciously large quantities of “King of the Hill” this fall? Or delving into marathons of “Even Stevens?” As trendy as it’s becoming to flood every network with cost-effective, syndicated re-runs, the Writers Guild of America strike that began Nov. 5 is turning TV into an increasingly monotonous affair, and we couch potatoes are losing heat.

It’s not new for entertainment writers and their Screen Actors Guild buddies to wield their signs outside of Paramount or Sony Studios. In 1998, writers demanded a higher cut in royalties from home movie sales, which network execs were hesitant to give. The studio’s claim was that it was a relatively new market and that production of those video cassettes was too pricey to anticipate a cash cow on the horizon. The writers ended up with .36 percent profit shares, which tasted all too bitter once DVDs were introduced. The market exploded, as the discs cost virtually nothing to make.

But the subtle winds of the idiot box are about to change once again, as “new media” (otherwise known as internet-based profits) digitize entertainment as we know it. And this time, writers want a bigger share of the profit pie. Writers might have sensed that something was a bit off once they saw a commercial for a TV screen that also functioned as a computer monitor, or when they caught their kids sneaking an iPhone show of “Hannah Montana” after lights out.

As those couple of dollars that iTunes lures from our pockets in exchange for a TV episode are starting to add up, it’s pointing the way for the future direction of the industry. The last strike lasted 22 weeks, or in TV terms, 22 episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer;” or 110 episodes of “The Daily Show.” Ouch. Hundreds of millions of dollars in potential profits floated into the ether as execs remained firm in their positions.

Today’s strike, while only in its infancy, is forecasting similar quantities of lost profits and under-stimulation for the couch sitters of our nation, although this time studios might have a few new strike-resistant weapons hiding under their leather desk chairs, among them reality TV and the possibility of importing foreign media.

“Consider ‘The Office’ on NBC, which started out as a (better) show on the BBC originally. Such ‘globalization’ hasn’t exactly diversified our airwaves as much as one might hope,” points out Brian Southwell, journalism professor at the University.

American or no, even the lines between what makes one a “writer” and what makes one a (insert cleverly concocted term here) remains as controversial in the realm of reality TV. As contrived as some of Tyra Bank’s emotional outbursts (“When my mother yells at me like this it’s because she loves me!”) on “Top Model” might seem, studios do not count the hands that rock reality TV as “writers.” Instead, the task of shaping the narratives by subtly arranging scandalous, hormone-eliciting, gossip-crackling scenarios is considered “story production” rather than pen-on-paper “writing.”

There could also be a boom in “Good Luck Chuck”-style projects, which exercise the method of taking a poorly conceived idea and throwing money at it. Plenty of people are probably willing to get paid less to do the job of the funnymen and drama-philes behind the screen, and desperate producers might not opt for the cleverest scribe beyond the picket line, a strategy that already seems to have significant momentum.

“I think network executives have already realized that there are cheaper ways to fill time between advertisements than to pay for well-scripted new dramas,” Southwell said.

Despite the avenues that studios could follow to “streamline” their teams, writers might still have an advantage because, well, they’re writers. The shows are successful because of the articulate, attention-grabbing writers behind them, and the writers are bringing their knack for rhetoric into the strike.

“Daily Show” writer Jason Ross has made a fake episode that was posted on YouTube in order to deliver the facts of the strike with the characteristic crack-up critical spin of his show.

“Writers think they should get paid, corporations think they should (series of censored expletives) herpes in their nasal passages,” he dutifully reports, before dumbfoundedly wondering why Viacom sued YouTube for a billion dollars if online media hasn’t truly become a profitable market.

In the thick of the picket lines, Sarah Silverman candidly explained to TV Guide, “My instinct is that they’re douchebags, but I feel like that can’t be true. They have families and kids Ö and jets.”

As hazy as the future of the strike appears right now, local network ABC swears that it has not affected them. As ABC representative Mike Smith explains, “they had many episodes already in the can,” so that hit dramas like “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” can show up for their prime-time spots for at least a few more weeks.

But for fans of comedies, especially nightly episodes (OK, OK, I am referring to the hole in my heart in the absence of “The Colbert Report”), the Hollywood feud is creating friction. Either new writers will step into town, or execs will realize that viewers are turning off the tube.

Until then, you might as well see what little Bobby is doing to disappoint Hank Hill this time.