(Note: We're reprinting this blog post from one of our other blogs, "A Capitol Idea Or Two," because of "The Colbert Report" returning from hibernation due to the writer's strike. The comments apply to that show as well.)
The late-night talk shows, sent into forced hibernation by the writer's strike, came back on the air again last night. Some of it worked. Some of it looked ugly.
The best of the bunch was David Letterman, whose Worldwide Pants outfit made a separate agreement with the writers to go back to work. “You’re watching the only show on the air that has jokes written by union writers,” Letterman told his audience. “I hear you at home thinking to yourself, ‘This crap is written?”
Letterman used the strike in his top 10 list -- "Demands of the Striking Writers."
10. “Complimentary tote bag with next insulting contract offer” — Tim Carvell, from “The Daily Show.”
9. “No rollbacks in health benefits, so I can treat the hypothermia I caught on the picket lines” — Laura Krafft, from “The Colbert Report.”
8. “Full salary and benefits for my imaginary writing partner, Lester” — Melissa Salmons, writer for daytime TV.
7. “Members of the AMPTP must explain what the hell AMPTP stands for” — Warren Leight, writer for “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”
6. “No disciplinary action taken against any writer caught having inappropriate relationship with a copier” — Jay Katsir, from “The Colbert Report.”
5. “I’d like a date with a woman” — Steve Bodow, from “The Daily Show.”
4. “Hazard pay for breaking up fights on ‘The View”’ — from writer and director Nora Ephron.
3. “I’m no accountant, but instead of us getting 4 cents for a $20 DVD, how about we get $20 for a 4-cent DVD?” — Gina Johnfrido of “Law & Order.”
2. “I don’t have a joke. I just want to remind everyone that we’re on strike, so none of us are responsible for this lame list” — Chris Albers from Conan O’Brien’s “Late Night.”
1. “Producers must immediately remove their heads from their -----” — author Alan Zwiebel.
Hillary Clinton even added to the levity on Letterman in a taped introduction. “Dave has been off the air for eight long weeks because of the writers strike,” she said. “Tonight, he’s back. Oh, well, all good things come to an end.”
Craig Ferguson, whose "Late Late Show" is also a part of the Worldwide Pants agreement, added this self-deprecating jibe: “I just want to send a message to the D-list celebrities of Hollywood. You’re still welcome here.”
On some of the other shows, things were embarrassing or downright ugly. Conan O’Brien, who, like Letterman grew a beard during his offtime, displayed Christmas cards, danced on his table and tried to fill time by seeing how long he could spin his wedding ring on his desk. Jay Leno delivered a monologue in apparent defiance of the writers guild, which intends to discuss the situation with Leno. Jimmy Kimmel was more defiant -- he criticized the strike. “I don’t want to depart too much from the party line, but I think it’s ridiculous. Jay Leno, he paid his staff while they were out. Conan did the same thing. I don’t know. I just think at a certain point you back off a little bit.”
Actually, Jimmy, you don't. You keep up the pressure. Kimmel's statement last night was a shift from a statement in a press release issued in December announcing his show would be back on the air. "Though it makes me sick to do so without my writers, there are more than a hundred people whose financial well-being depends on our show. It is time to go back to work. I support my colleagues and friends in the WGA completely and hope this ends both fairly and soon," the statement said.
Jay Leno even got presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who has sought union support in his presidential campaign, to cross a picket line to be on his show. Of course, Huckabee, like any good politician, denied he had done so, but a sign outside the "Tonight Show" taping calling Huckabee a scab told the real story. The Writer's Guild blog, United Hollywood, addressed this.
"My understanding is that there was a special arrangement made for the late-night shows, and the writers have made this agreement to let the late night shows to come back on, so I don't anticipate that it's crossing a picket line," said Huckabee.
"I support the writers, by the way. Unequivocally, absolutely. They're dead right on this one. And they ought to get royalties off the residuals and the long-term contracts. I don't think anybody supports the producers on this one. Maybe the producers support the producers, but I think everybody in the business and even the general public supports the writers."
However, when the reporters told Huckabee he was incorrect and the WGA had only made a separate deal with David Letterman's company - and not the Tonight Show - Huckabee pled ignorance: "But my understanding is there's a sort of dispensation given to the late-night shows, is that right?"
And when the reporters tried yet again to tell Huckabee he was flat out wrong? His response: "Hmmm. Oh."
So he knew. And not just from the reporters. UH.com has confirmed that members of Huckabee's staff were in contact with Guild officials while Huckabee was on the NBC lot - but before the Tonight Show taping started. To again explain the situation and clear up any "confusion" Huckabee had. To make it crystal clear that he was indeed crossing a picket line. Period.
But to no avail.
Apparently "unequivocally" and "absolutely" don't mean what they used to. Or perhaps "this show has an agreement, this show doesn't" is really, really, really confusing. Unlike less complicated issues such as foreign policy and the economy.
The Guild also issued a statement about Huckabee's appearance.
"The Writers Guild is disappointed that Mike Huckabee crossed the WGA picket line today at NBC. We welcome the statements of support he has made for striking writers, but we ask him to respect our picket lines in the future and urge the media conglomerates to return to the bargaining table to make a fair deal that will put writers and the entertainment industry back to work."
Funny thing is that both Leno and O'Brien expressed support of the writers, even though they're back on the air without them.
Here's what Conan O'Brien told viewers about the strike in his monologue.
"Let's talk for a minute about the situation we find ourselves in. As you know, 2 months ago the Writers Guild of America went out on strike and we took our show "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" off the air in support of the writers. This has been a tough time not only for our show, but for a lot of people in the entertainment industry. Good people right now are out of work. And possibly worse, with all the late night shows off the air, Americans have been forced to read books and occasionally even speak to one another, which has been horrifying.
We're back now but sadly, we do not have our writers with us. I want to make this clear, I support their cause – these are very talented, very creative people who work extremely hard and I believe what they're asking for is fair. My biggest wish is that they get a great deal very quickly and get back here because we desperately need them on the show. Think about it: Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, The Masturbating Bear, The Walker Texas Ranger Lever – it's all writing. Well, not the Masturbating Bear. That's just instinct. Which brings us to the big $64,000 question of the evening: What do we do now?
And Leno. “The writers are correct, by the way. I’m a writer ... I’m on the side of the writers,” Leno said.
We hope the writers turn the pressure up on Leno, O'Brien and Kimmel. It should be painfully obvious that their shows are shells without the creative talent of the striking writers.
Otherwise we'll be reduced to jokes like this: What do you give a dog with a fever? Mustard. It's good for a hot dog.