With the writers’ and actors’ guilds still on strike, talk shows are in an awkward position—some are returning without writers and say they will comply with strike guidelines, but some striking workers say producing talk shows without violating strike rules is impossible or immoral.
Drew Barrymore announced this week her talk show would return—and although she clarified the show will comply with the strike rules by not promoting film or television productions and reportedly returning without writers, the Writers Guild of America said The Drew Barrymore Show is a “WGA covered, struck show” that will be picketed.
In response to Barrymore’s decision to resume production of her show, the National Book Foundation rescinded her invitation to host the upcoming National Book Awards Ceremony in November, stating it wants to “ensure that the focus of the Awards remains on celebrating writers and books.”
Real Time with Bill Maher will return without writers, and will feature panel discussions without of the usual monologue and written segments, Maher announced Wednesday, making the HBO show the first late-night talk show to announce a return to air.
Maher, who is a WGA member, said he sympathizes with the issues raised by those on strike and admitted his show won’t be as good without writers, but said other members of his staff are struggling, stating “it is time to bring people back to work.”
The Jennifer Hudson Show and The Talk, two other daytime talk shows which have reportedly employed WGA writers, are also set to return this month without writers (The View, also staffed by some WGA writers, returned last week without them).
Other daytime talk shows, Live! With Kelly and Mark, Tamron Hall and Sherri, are all set to return, reportedly without violating strike rules, as these shows have not previously employed WGA writers.
Whether WGA-covered shows returning without writers violates strike rules is the subject of debate—some critics have called the return of these shows a “moral violation” of the strikes and believe production of these shows cannot occur without anybody completing writing work, which would be forbidden by the strike rules.
For returning talk shows, guests are forbidden by strike rules to promote film or television projects, like actor Jake Gyllenhaal, who appeared on Live! With Kelly and Mark to promote his children’s book.
Though Barrymore and The View host Whoopi Goldberg are both members of SAG-AFTRA, their appearances on their talk shows would not violate the SAG-AFTRA strike as their shows operate under the Network Television Code, which is a separate contract.
Barrymore’s announcement inspired backlash from writers, some of whom have already picketed outside her show. Former WGA board member David Slack said “a huge amount of writing work goes into every episode” for talk shows, and by returning to air, “Drew Barrymore is 100% ensuring that *someone* — either herself, one of her non-writing producers, or all of the above — will be doing the writing work that WGA writers normally do.” Slack, and other critics, called Barrymore a “scab”—a derogatory term for a worker that refuses to join a labor union’s activities. After Barrymore stated she owns her decision to return, actor Bradley Whitford posted on X: “Oh, you own it. For sure, @DrewBarrymore. And we’ll never forget it.” Whitford’s The West Wing co-star Josh Malina posted a picture of Barrymore’s face with the word “SCAB” superimposed. After Maher announced his return to air Wednesday night, Malina posted a similar picture of Maher’s face with the word “SCAB.” The WGA also quickly criticized Maher for bringing back his show, calling his decision disappointing. “It is difficult to imagine how Real Time with Bill Maher can go forward without a violation of WGA strike rules taking place. WGA will be picketing this show,” the WGA said. Guy Endore-Kaiser, a television screenwriter, posted on X that Maher, who is a WGA member, “will obviously be thinking up questions to ask his panel of guests. This is writing. Bill Maher is a scab.” Greg Iwinski, a television writer and member of the WGA’s negotiating committee, said all returning talk shows covered by the WGA—including Barrymore and Hudson’s talk shows, The View and The Talk—will be picketed upon their return.
The WGA has been on strike since May, while SAG-AFTRA joined in July. Both strikes revolve around disputes between the guilds and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios in negotiations. Both strikes largely concern residual payments—writers and actors have argued the streaming era diminished opportunities to earn money from prior work (like earning money from shows that re-run on broadcast television), tanking average pay. Both guilds are also demanding protections against artificial intelligence, which writers fear can essentially replace their jobs and actors fear can use their likenesses without their consent. The last writers’ strike, which lasted from 2007 to 2008, created the same problem for talk show hosts, some of whom continued production and faced similar criticism to Barrymore. Ellen DeGeneres continued production on her daytime talk show amid the strike, stating she felt “caught in the middle” because she was a member of both the writers’ and actors’ guilds. Her representatives said she was not violating strike rules because she was ad-libbing her monologues. The WGA’s New York wing slammed DeGeneres for continuing her show, accusing her of performing “struck work” and stating she and her show were “not welcome” in New York. The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (which had not yet merged with SAG) supported DeGeneres, stating she was contractually obligated to continue hosting her show. Several months into the strike, late night hosts Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien also resumed production, quickly prompting a warning from the WGA that no writing duties were to be performed.
Though many daytime talk shows are making efforts to return, most late night shows remain off the air. Five late-night talk show hosts—Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers and John Oliver—launched a Spotify podcast in August, Strike Force Five, and will donate proceeds to support their staff members who remain out of work.
In May, Barrymore pulled out of hosting the MTV Movie & TV Awards because of the strikes. “I have listened to the writers, and in order to truly respect them, I will pivot from hosting the MTV Movie & TV Awards live in solidarity with the strike,” Barrymore said in a statement. Some have criticized Barrymore for her decision to return to her talk show after supporting the strikes several months prior. In a statement announcing the return of her talk show, Barrymore said her duties as host of the MTV event would have had a “direct conflict with what the strike was dealing with which was studios, streamers, film, and television,” adding she felt it was important to show solidarity during the first week of the strike. She said she “owns” her choice to return to her talk show, stating that unlike hosting the awards show, she would not be discussing or promoting film or television.
Can Talk Shows Continue During Hollywood Strikes Without Being Scabs? The Answers Are Tricky (Variety)
‘Drew Barrymore’ Protesters Bash Production as ‘Moral Violation,’ Show ‘Regrets’ Booting Two WGA-Supporting Audience Members (Variety)
Five Late Night Hosts Unite to Launch Podcast Benefiting Strike-Impacted Staff (The Hollywood Reporter)