Nick Ferrari on Broadcasting

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The Independent Online

If you were asked to name the most powerful people in British TV today, what sort of names would run through your mind? Rupert Murdoch, Michael Grade and Mark Thompson would all be likely starters.

But how many of you would plump for people such as Steve MacDonald, Patric Verrone and Greg Berlanti?

Puzzled? The brutal truth of the matter is right now, anxious executives across much of British television are as nervous about the actions of that unknown trio as a Northern Rock shareholder is about their investment.

And the reason is they are among the prime movers of the 12,000 members of the Writers Guild of America who meet today to resume talks with the major US TV studios in a bid to end the deadlock that has led to a walk out and strike that started on Bonfire Night. And, if the penny (or more accurately cent) still hasn't dropped, the writers are the brains behind the huge raft of

American TV imports from Prison Break to Lost and Ugly Betty to CSI.

The strike, incidentally supported by nearly all the shows' big name stars like Jay Leno, Martin Sheen and Matthew Perry who have visited the picket line offering their support and in some cases taking drinks and doughnuts, means production has ended and, despite frantic efforts at stockpiling, some programmes are getting dangerously close to running out of episodes.

And, for stations such as Five and Channel 4 here in the UK that have benefited hugely from adding these shows to their schedules, these are nervy times.

Undoubtedly, the US invasion brought some fantastic material to these shores – but as they performed better and pulled in more viewers the prices spiralled. The reported cost of just one Desperate Housewives episode has been estimated at a staggering £900,000 – and that level of expenditure on acquisitions means there's less cash available for investment on home-grown material.

How much easier it is to splurge on a diet of proven, top- quality US output rather than gambling on outing a slate of shows to air knowing a process of natural selection means they can't possibly all "makeit" and in the process attract a bucket or two of criticism from the press.

But the transatlantic courier packages bringing in the shows are close to drying up. In the US, only 13 of the 24 episodes of the current run of Ugly Betty have been taped and episode 10 goes out early next month.

On Brothers and Sisters, 12 episodes have been taped and episode nine airs this Sunday . Other programmes such as 24 and Prison Break are in hiatus. Production has ceased on at least 24 shows including Cold Case and My Name Is Earl. Emergency plans being formulated in the US include stringing available episodes into mini-seasons or simply falling back on repeats.

Here, the level of repeats of some US imports is so high it's difficult to see how adding yet more repeats into the rotation can be seen as anything other than near-suicidal – and you run the added risk you could actually turn viewers off their previously loved shows through over exposure leaving them feeling uncomfortably sated.

Credit now goes to those who didn't take the easy option of writing the big cheques and instead continued to develop their own shows. The BBC's Cranford, starring Judi Dench which started recently, is a prime example - and the first episode on Sunday 18 November pulled in nine million viewers. It works, you're not dependant on others – but it's not cheap and it's risky, and mighty expensive for many.

At ITV, the best part of £1bn has produced original programmes like Room With A View and My Boy Jack. And, as if the news isn't grim enough, the prospects of a speedy peace deal are not good. A previous acrimonious dispute in 1988 lasted 22 weeks and cost the entertainment industry an estimated £250m back then.

But, that figure would be dwarfed if a solution is not found rapidly – the cost now is put at £10.5m a day. Bizarrely, the fight centres on the studios' attempts to get morepeople watching the writers' efforts by putting shows on the internet, mobile phones, video iPods and other new media and how much they are prepared to pay for it. But, the battle lines are drawn.

In Hollywood, the heavily manned picket line has been augmented by a helicopter fly-past and a small plane pulling supportive banners. Passers by stop to cheer and urge on the strikers and store owners hand out coupons for free goods. Other union members join in to chant "On strike, shut 'em down – Hollywood's a union town" at jittery studio executives as they hurry into their offices.

At times, the drama and tension resembles some of the shows the writers work on. And, if the strike goes on, it might become the only show in town.

So, is it farewell to John Motson?

Following ITV's audacious raid this year on England football internationals, World Cup and Euro 201 qualifiers, it was surely not the way the BBC's voice of football "Mottie" would have wanted to exit from England's competitive international matches.

But, having indicated he could retire after Euro 2008, he'll become another casualty of Steve McLaren's disastrous tenure as the national team manager.

It was difficult to tell when Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen et al signed off last week whether their evident gloom was down to England's terrible performance or the realisation the team of analysts will be about as much use as an England back four the next time a big game day dawns.

Nick Ferrari presents the Nick Ferrari Breakfast Show every weekday from 7a.m. on LBC 97.3FM

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