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Drew Barrymore and Bill Maher Reversed Course, But Some Talk Shows Are Moving Forward Amid Strikes

Sherri Shepherd bucks the trend and returns to work as WGA and AMPTP prepare to resume negotiations.
  • Drew Barrymore and Bill Maher (Photos: CBS/HBO)
    Drew Barrymore and Bill Maher (Photos: CBS/HBO)

    There was positive news on Monday regarding the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike, with the WGA confirming that they're returning to the negotiating table with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on September 20. The two sides last met on August 18th but reportedly remain far apart on issues such as residuals and mandatory staffing of writers' rooms.

    While this is a positive step towards fair and equitable deals for the WGA and SAG-AFTRA, which joined the writers guild on strike in July, we still may be a long way off from a resolution. Some of the loudest developments on the strike front recently have surrounded daytime talk show The Drew Barrymore Show and HBO's late-night panel show Real Time With Bill Maher, with hosts Drew Barrymore and Bill Maher announcing that they would begin production on new episodes in spite of the Hollywood work stoppage. But now, after several days' worth of negative reactions on social media and pressure from union members, both Barrymore and Maher have reversed their decisions and paused production on their respective shows. The Barrymore announcement was followed closely by the news that The Jennifer Hudson Show and The Talk will also halt their season premieres.

    While Barrymore's follow-up Instagram announcement was apologetic and nodded towards listening to her critics, and Maher tweeted about changing his mind now that the WGA was back at the negotiating table, it's hard to make the claim that either one of them made their decision out of any kind of solidarity. Barrymore and Maher initially thought they were armed with caveats that would ameliorate their strike-breaking announcements. Daytime TV shows like Barrymore's aren't produced under the same contract that SAG-AFTRA is striking over, and in the past, both daytime and late-night talk shows have carried on without writers. That latter justification is what Maher stood on when he announced Real Time would be continuing without its writers until the strike is resolved.

    The impulse to keep production going in order to continue to pay the hundreds of non-actors and non-writers employed by these shows is real. But if actors, writers, and anyone who grew up with a parent or grandparent in a union were going to be unwilling to cross picket lines to appear on these shows, it would have been hard for the likes of Barrymore and Maher to continue on.

    This does raise the question of which daytime and late-night shows are or are not in production currently. The late-night shows are all still on hiatus for now, including The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Late Night With Seth Meyers, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (the hosts of which have taken up podcasting to raise money for their staffs), and The Daily Show. There was some concern that Maher's return to the air would herald the other late-night hosts following suit, though now that he's has reversed course, you have to imagine that none of the late-night hosts are eager to be publicly less virtuous than Bill Maher.

    As for daytime, The Kelly Clarkson show has been on hiatus since May 1st, as its host performs at her Las Vegas residency. When the show does return, presumably after the strikes, it will have moved its production from Los Angeles to New York. The daytime soap operas are all in production, as their casts are working off of a different contract than the one SAG-AFTRA is striking over, though the shows are currently being staffed by scab writers while the WGA-member staff is on strike.

    The View is also working without its WGA-affiliated writers, though SAG doesn't consider hosting to be an acting gig, so the six View co-hosts are in the clear (though Whoopi Goldberg is a member of SAG). The Tamron Hall Show and Live! With Kelly and Mark are both still in production, as they don't have writing staffs covered by the WGA. On Monday, Sherri Shepherd announced that her show would be returning, justifying the decision by saying her show has never employed WGA writers.

    Daytime TV has always been awash in gray areas like this. And since certain shows are not under WGA or SAG contracts, they exist under different strictures. But talk shows depend on guests who are — or should be — currently on the picket line. Moreover, talk show hosts like Drew Barrymore and Kelly Clarkson derive their power from their popularity, and maintaining that amid a work stoppage is a tricky thing that no contract language can cover. While the resumed negotiations offer some light at the end of the tunnel, daytime and late-night shows will likely continue to be on the front lines of what is and is not permissible to work on during such a momentous strike.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: TV Writers' Strike, The Drew Barrymore Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, The View, Sherri Shepherd, TV Actors' Strike