Writers Strike: Battle for late night

by W. Andrew Powell

Well, that was interesting. Even though I’ve been feeling under the weather tonight, curiosity got the better of me. After two months without any new shows from the late show hosts, thanks to the Writers Guild of America strike, I had to tune in to David Letterman to see what he could do with the show now that he’s back with his writers.

Weird is certainly one way to describe it. And preachy.

Thanks to a deal Letterman made with the Guild he was able to bring his show back with his writers intact, unlike late night hosts Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien who came back to air tonight without any writers.

But also thanks to the deal you can basically say that Letterman is in bed with the Guild, and that means the mud-slinging is going to be even more public now as the writers take their message directly to the masses through Letterman’s show. It remains to be seen how Letterman will fare against the other hosts, but he certainly wasn’t boring.

For one thing it was interesting to see Lettermen with 10 striking writers, doing a Top 10 list about what the writers want from producers (it was especially cool that some of these writers were from other late shows). The best of the list was probably one of the last writers who quipped: “I just want to remind everyone we’re on strike, so none of us are responsible for this lame list.”

Letterman is also known for having a pretty wild and loose show, but this might have been the weirdest I’ve seen in ages. He had grown a shaggy beard while he was away, which made for a bit of strangeness unto itself, and ran off on several tangents about how he spent his time off.

Anyway, I’m betting that having writers will give him a huge advantage, but I guess anything is possible. Maybe the other hosts will find some savvy way to be funny without a script, but I’m betting they’re actually just going to fall flat on their faces. The late shows, in my mind, are getting lamer and lamer, so the idea that they can survive without writers is laughable.

Which brings us to the writers. I’m a firm supporter of what the WGA is striking for – they just want fair pay, and it’s obvious that right now the Producers don’t want to give up a dime more of the money they’re raking in on DVDs. They’re also blocking any idea that the writers can claim a decent paycheck from the growing realm of Internet re-broadcasting of shows, where producers are bound to be making money from online advertising.

That said though, I think a lot of the shows being produced for TV are utter crap. How many cop dramas do we need about unsolved murders on the streets of some big city? How many dumb jokes can that big, fat, dumb comedian spew before people realize he isn’t funny? There are literally a handful of good dramas and another handful of good comedies on TV, and I’m almost wishing for the strike to sink the current schedule for something fresh.

Letterman’s return signals a chance for viewers to tune into something new at least as the strike churns away. It could still be months before the strike is settled, so I’m willing to take what I can get from the TV schedule. On the very bright side of things I can at least look forward to some new Canadian shows over the next few months. Canada may not produce anything as good as Lost or a Heroes, but there’s certainly enough to keep me amused. I’m just baffled that they think they can effectively kill all development to TV shows and movies, and not suffer for it for months and months to come… I’m just wishing that some brilliant, pioneering company would launch a fantastic online resource for independent TV and film for me to fill my free time.

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