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Because of the writers strike, viewers will have to wait till the fall to see what happens with Sylar (Zachary Quinto) and the rest of the "Heroes."
Our long television nightmare is over.

The writers have put down their picket signs and picked up their pencils. Now we'll actually be treated to some prime-time fare that doesn't have stinky mold all over it.

But hang in there for just a little longer. The three-month labor feud made a complete shambles of the TV season, forcing network programmers to pick up the pieces and play catch-up.

Viewers can generally expect new episodes of some of their favorite shows to start rolling out around mid-March to early April. But not every show is coming back. Fox, for example, has postponed "24" until January, and NBC has also sent its "Heroes" to the sidelines.

However, most of the major hits from the fall will return with at least a handful of episodes. But until they do, we figured it's a good time to reassess the strike to see what kind of intel it provided. And so, as a public service, here are the lessons we learned from the writers strike:

1. The network bosses don't care about us

Were Meredith and Derek really done for good on "Grey's Anatomy"? How would Grissom cope without Sara on "CSI"? What would life be like on Wisteria Lane post-tornado? Inquiring minds wanted to know.

But the Hollywood bigwigs basically said "so what?" Displaying a blatant lack of good will, they were determined to drag their heels and make the lowly writers sweat it out no matter what damage it inflicted on the industry -- or how much inconvenience it caused for us.

Clearly, they didn't have our best interests at heart. Please don't tell us you sent them any valentine's cards this week.

2. Awards shows weren't rewarding

What's more boring than a Golden Globes gala full of pompous actors and windy speeches? A Golden Globes gala without pompous actors and windy speeches.

When the writers picketed the Globes, the actors followed suit, and all we were left with were dimwitted talking heads who droned on and on in a telecast that was hollow and dull. Yes, there were some laughs, but they were unintentional, as in Larry King trying to provide lame analysis.

Looking ahead to the Oscars, we have one word: Whew!

3. It's true: Reality bites

We've always been able to take reality TV in moderation. But the strike provided us with a glimpse of what prime time looks like on mindless reality overload and the view wasn't pretty.

"Big Brother" in the winter? Please, no! "Crowned: The Mother of All Beauty Pageants"? Run for your lives! "American Gladiators"? Make it stop. "The Moment of Truth"? Oh lord, does the "truth" hurt.

Of course, even with a full contingent of writers, television often abuses us (See: "Cashmere Mafia"). But the latest outpouring of reality has made us feel like victims of a horrible hazing.

4. Politics can be fun

Then again, this election year has brought with it a brand of reality TV that we've devoured in heaping doses.

Just as prime time was becoming a barren wasteland, Clinton, Obama, McCain, Huckabee and company stepped in to provide the kind of compelling conflict, stunning plot twists and spicy dialogue that few writers could manage. And the audience responded, flocking to televised debates in record numbers and goosing the ratings of the cable news channels.

5. Old habits die hard

Going into the strike, the theory was that viewers would be so desperate for fresh fare, they'd be willing to give other shows a try. That theory was wrong.

Critically acclaimed dramas such as "The Wire" and "Friday Night Lights" failed to experience any significant bump in their ratings. Meanwhile, new shows such as "Lipstick Jungle" (7.5 million) and "Welcome to the Captain" (7.9 million) drew lackluster debut ratings, and even the audience for the opening night of "Survivor" (14 million) was the show's lowest ever.

Still, not everyone abandoned TV during the strike. In another incredible drama not penned by any writer, the New York Giants Super Bowl upset over the New England Patriots was seen by 97.5 million -- the second-largest audience for any TV program. Ever.

Reach Chuck Barney at 925-952-2685 or cbarney@bayareanewsgroup.com. Also, check out his daily blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/tvfreak.

GET WITH THE PROGRAM

Want to know when your favorite show returns? CBS and NBC have officially firmed up their post-strike plans. Meanwhile, the other networks are still hashing things out, so much of this is based on reports and speculation coming out of Hollywood and is subject to change.

CBS

  • "The Big Bang Theory" -- Returns March 17 (nine episodes).

  • "Cane" -- No new episodes this season; future in doubt.

  • "Cold Case" -- March 30 (five episodes).

  • "Criminal Minds" -- April 2 (seven episodes).

  • "CSI" -- April 3 (six episodes).

  • "CSI: Miami" -- March 24 (eight episodes).

  • "CSI: NY" -- April 7 (seven episodes).

  • "Ghost Whisperer" -- April 4 (six episodes).

  • "How I Met Your Mother" -- March 17 (nine episodes).

  • "Jericho" -- Will air six more episodes as planned.

  • "NCIS" -- April 8 (seven episodes).

  • "The New Adventures of Old Christine" -- Will finish its current run with seven more episodes.

  • "NUMB3RS" -- April 4 (six episodes).

  • "Moonlight" -- April 11 (four episodes).

  • "Rules of Engagement" -- April 14 (six episodes).

  • "Shark" -- Air date TBA (four episodes).

  • "Two and a Half Men" -- March 17 (nine episodes).

  • "The Unit" -- No new episodes this season.

  • "Without a Trace" -- April 3 (six new episodes).

    NBC

  • "30 Rock" -- April 10 (five episodes).

  • "ER" -- April 10 (six episodes).

  • "Chuck" -- No new episodes this season; returns in fall.

  • "Friday Night Lights" -- No new episodes; a third season is doubtful.

  • "Heroes" -- No new episodes; returns in fall.

  • "Las Vegas" -- One episode left this season.

  • "Law & Order: SVU" -- April 15 (five episodes).

  • "Law & Order" -- April 23 (five episodes).

  • "Life" -- No new episodes; returns in fall.

  • "Medium" -- Six episodes left in its season.

  • "My Name Is Earl" -- April 3 (nine episodes).

  • "The Office" -- April 10 (six episodes).

  • "Saturday Night Live" -- Returns Feb. 23.

  • "Scrubs" -- April 10. (five episodes left; four more may be shot).

    ("Journeyman" and "Bionic Woman" are expected to be canceled.)

    Fox

  • "24" -- Postponed until January.

  • "Back to You" -- Two episodes remain.

  • "Bones" -- Four episodes to begin airing April 14. Two more planned.

  • "House" -- Expected to shoot four to six new episodes to begin airing in April.

  • "Prison Break" -- Two episodes unaired.

  • "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" -- Four episodes remain.

    The CW

  • "Aliens in America" -- Eight more episodes left in its season.

  • "Everybody Hates Chris" -- Twelve episodes in the can.

  • "The Game" -- Four episodes left. Eight or nine more planned.

  • "Girlfriends" -- No new episodes. Talks in works about giving series a sendoff.

  • "Gossip Girl" -- Five or six episodes to begin airing in April.

  • "Life Is Wild" -- Most likely canceled.

  • "One Tree Hill" -- Will continue current run with five episodes. More could come.

  • "Reaper" -- Three more episodes are in the can.

  • "Smallville" -- Four episodes in the can. Five more planned.

  • "Supernatural" -- Two episodes remain. Four or five more planned.

    ABC

  • "Boston Legal" -- One episode remains and will shoot up to eight more.

  • "Brothers & Sisters" -- One episode remains. Five more should follow.

  • "Desperate Housewives" -- Expected to shoot seven new episodes to begin airing in April.

  • "Dirty Sexy Money" -- No new episodes until fall.

  • "Grey's Anatomy" -- Four or five new episodes expected to show up in late April

  • "Lost" -- Five episodes remain; five more planned for now.

  • "Men in Trees" -- Eleven episodes to begin airing Feb. 27.

  • "October Road" -- Four episodes left; on the bubble for renewal.

  • "Private Practice" -- No new episodes expected until fall.

  • "Pushing Daisies" -- No new episodes until fall.

  • "Samantha Who?" -- Three episodes left. Three more to come.

  • "Ugly Betty" -- Five new episodes to begin airing in April.

  • "Women's Murder Club" -- No new episodes planned. Future status unclear.

    ("Big Shots," "Carpoolers" and "Cavemen" are expected to be canceled.)

    See BARNEY, Page ?

    INSIDE

  • When is your favorite program returning? Page 4.