With the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes heading into fall and no resolution in sight, the latest battleground is the daytime talk show arena.
Last week, Drew Barrymore decided to return her CBS Media Ventures-distributed show to production, angering the WGA and picketed her program last week outside CBS Broadcast Center in New York where it’s produced. Barrymore defended her position a few times – in a statement and then on Friday in a now-deleted video message on Instagram. Barrymore received intense backlash for her decision on social media and elsewhere.
Sunday night, Barrymore reversed her decision and decided not to resume production, and plans by other daytime talkers – including Warner Bros.’ Jennifer Hudson, CBS’ The Talk, and HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher (the only one in the group who’s not a daytime show) to resume production without writers were also scrapped until at least the WGA strike is over, as all performers can work under the SAG-AFTRA production code.
Other series continuing to air during the strikes including Disney’s Live With Kelly and Mark and Tamron Hall as they are not WGA-covered shows and thus, not struck. Also continuing production is ABC’s The View, whose WGA writers did go out on strike and is being picketed. Other talkers resuming this week are Debmar-Mercury’s Sherri (which is on hold again as host Sherri Shepard tested positive for Covid Wednesday) and NBCUniversal’s Karamo – neither are employed with WGA writers.
In her now-deleted Instagram post, Barrymore pointed out her show could be canceled if her show didn’t deliver new episodes to stations. Entering her fourth season, Barrymore’s show has constantly averaged below a one rating, though ratings increased when her show was split into two half-hours last season, giving stations more flexibility on where to schedule it. Last week, CBS-owned WBBM-TV moved Drew back to its 2 p.m. time slot it held from September 2020 to August 2021 (for some strange reason, Drew also airs on WCIU-TV from midnight-1 a.m.)
Even though people don’t usually think daytime talk shows aren’t WGA-covered, they actually are – many daytime shows in the past ranging from The Rosie O’Donnell Show to Dr. Phil to any version of Hollywood Squares had WGA writers on set – writing bullet points, jokes, and other material. In the past, production companies could strike interim agreements so writers could go back to work (something Conan O’Brien and David Letterman did during the last writer’s strike), but the WGA closed those loopholes in the last contract.
With those shows back on the bench for the time being, it would be interesting to see what reaction stations have. In some cases, if a local station (or station group) downgrades a show’s time period – even if it’s in indefinite reruns because of the strikes, they could face cash penalties from syndicators as detailed in their contract. It was a tactic pioneered by Paramount in the 1990s, putting the language in contracts for The Arsenio Hall Show and Entertainment Tonight, among other daily strips. This was one of the reasons why Fox decided to discontinue You Bet Your Life With Jay Leno after two seasons as the WGA strike shut down production of the show as contracts with stations expired September 8. Contracts for Jennifer Hudson’s show don’t expire until September 2024 which given the current circumstances, could make a bid for renewal very tough.
This also comes at a time when stations’ schedules are littered with reruns of out-of-production talk shows, such as Jerry Springer (who died last spring) and Maury. So far, no first-run programs have been announced for fall 2024, but it’s unlikely we’ll see any new celebrity-driven talk shows being trotted out as the strikes have put everything into a indefinite state of suspended animation.