Your favorite late-night hosts will soon be getting back into the national conversation.
The resolution of the Writers Guild of America strike, which will officially end at midnight on Wednesday, means NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon,” CBS’ “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” and ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” are heading back into production as soon as next week and will be the first new entertainment programs back on the air since the work stoppage began.
Representatives at the networks did not comment or specify a return date for the programs. But two people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to comment publicly said the staffs for Colbert and Kimmel have been told to be ready to report to work next week.
There are reports that Drew Barrymore’s daytime program, which depends on WGA writers, will be back up and running next month as well. “The Jennifer Hudson Show” will have new episodes starting Monday, according to a TV station executive familiar with the plans.
CBS would like its daytime chat-fest “The Talk” to restart by Oct. 9, if not sooner. A representative for HBO had no information on return dates for “Real Time With Bill Maher” and “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” which are both weekly programs.
The late-night talk shows on broadcast and cable networks went dark as soon as the WGA went on strike May 2. (A tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers was reached Sunday night, giving the union’s members improved residuals for streaming and protections regarding the use of AI. While the board has approved the agreement, and the strike will be lifted, members of the guild still need to vote to ratify the agreement.)
These shows rely heavily on writers who craft the nightly monologue and other comedic routines — often riffing on topics in the news that day. Scripts are written hours or minutes — rather than days or weeks — before the cameras start rolling. But because the productions are so nimble, they’re also expected to be the first back on the air once writers are given the OK to return to work.
Unlike on a scripted drama such as “Stranger Things,” resuming production on a talk show is fairly simple. Most shows are taped in studios and theaters that have been sitting idle for months. As proved during the early days of the pandemic — when Seth Meyers emceed “Late Night” from his attic and Stephen Colbert hosted “The Late Show” from his home office — all you really need to make late-night TV is a host, a camera and a script.
And even though SAG-AFTRA remains on strike — hobbling production on countless scripted dramas and sitcoms — Colbert, Fallon and other late-night hosts are free to resume their performing duties because daily late-night shows are covered under a separate deal with the union, known as the Network Television Code.
But navigating the road back to pre-strike normalcy won’t be simple.
With actors still on strike and largely barred from promoting their film and TV projects, the most difficult task for producers may be booking talent to fill the guest slots. Then again, there should be plenty of musicians, directors, authors and reality stars eager to fill the void.
While the programs might suffer a shortage of marquee guests, they should have no trouble filling time with riffs from their hosts, whose monologues and commentary are a part of the cultural zeitgeist. Their need may border on addiction, as the three network hosts and HBO’s Oliver teamed up for a 12-episode Spotify podcast — called “Strike Force” — which afforded them opportunity to riff. (They gave revenue generated by the project to unemployed staff members affected by the strike).
“I think the pain for the hosts has been that when somebody does something extraordinarily stupid, they’re forced to bite their tongues and sit on it,” said Daniel Kellison, a former executive producer of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” “Everyone’s going to be very eager to be back.”
The backlash to Barrymore and others during the WGA strike who tried to return to work before there was a resolution means all of the returning shows will have to be cautious that they respect the SAG-AFTRA members if they are not back to work soon.
On Sept. 10, the actor-turned-daytime host announced she would resume production of her syndicated talk show, which had been on a scheduled hiatus since the spring, even though it employs writers who are guild members. The news led to picket lines outside the show’s studio in Manhattan and triggered massive backlash on social media. After doubling down on the decision with a disastrous video she later deleted, Barrymore eventually backtracked, saying “The Drew Barrymore Show” would not return until the strike was resolved.
Spurred by a PR crisis, the decision became a watershed moment in the strike: Other talk shows that had planned to resume production without writers, including “Real Time With Bill Maher” and “The Talk,” also decided to wait until the strike was resolved. Within days, the guild and the AMPTP were back at the bargaining table, working out an agreement.