The late-night television sector will be the first to get hit if there’s a writers strike, and its stars are bracing themselves for impact.
The nightly talk shows – The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Daily Show as well as Saturday Night Live – will be among the first high-profile shows dealing with the fallout of a strike if the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers can’t reach an agreement by May 1.
Kimmel and Colbert, the latter of which previously hosted Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, will remember first-hand what happened last time there was a writers strike in 2007-08. Meyers was on Saturday Night Live during that period.
While Jay Leno (who hosted The Tonight Show), Conan O’Brien (Late Night), David Letterman (The Late Show), Craig Ferguson (The Late Late Show) and Carson Daly (Last Call) are no longer in their roles and The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart has a different kind of program now, there are many still working on these productions that also remember the chaos that ensued toward the end of 2007.
James Corden will be thanking his lucky stars that his last night on The Late Late Show is April 27 and not a week later.
“As someone who identifies as a writer, there would be no trying to get around [a strike]. I wouldn’t be looking for loopholes to figure out how to write,” one late-night host told Deadline.
This comment won’t seem strange to those who remember that Letterman and Ferguson were able to bring their writers back to their shows before Leno, O’Brien, Kimmel, Stewart and Colbert.
Leno, Letterman, Kimmel and O’Brien all returned to the air on January 2, 2008, after nearly two months off air. They were followed by Stewart and Colbert on January 7.
But due to a quirk of ownership through Letterman’s production company Worldwide Pants, he owned The Late Show and The Late Late Show rather than CBS and was able to strike a side-deal with the WGA. Leno, Kimmel, O’Brien, et al, meanwhile, were employees of their respective networks.
Daly, who was not a WGA member, was the first host back, and he took a lot of grief including from the WGA, which said it was “disappointed” that he didn’t “resist network pressure” or honor writers’ picket lines.”
Leno opened his first show back, without writers, by saying, “A Jew, a Christian and a Muslim walk into a bar. The Jew says to the Muslim… see, I have no idea what they say, because there’s a writers’ strike.”
When Stewart, who now hosts Apple’s The Problem with Jon Stewart, returned, he joked, “Here’s the problem: Without the writers, any movie reference that I make is going to be from the ’80s.”
Stewart was also annoyed that the WGA wouldn’t negotiate a deal with his show, ala Letterman.
Kimmel has previously said the strike wiped out his savings because he was paying a lot of his staff while they were out of work. Given that the majority, if not all, of the late-night hosts went through a similar situation during the early days of the pandemic, they won’t want to have to shell out of pocket again so soon.
The ABC star also said that the strike brought many of the hosts together as they wanted to go back at the same time. This is notable as they weren’t all as close as the current crop has become.
Deadline understands that the hosts and their showrunners are staying in close contact with each other to monitor the situation, as they did during Covid. The group has become relatively close over the last few years and the stars regularly appear on each other’s shows.
One late-night source told Deadline that they’ve been praying a strike doesn’t happen.
“I have been and will continue to talk to the other shows to see what they’re up to,” the source added. “We’ve got to support the writers — our writers are amazing. That said, the rest of the staff is amazing and I don’t want to see anybody lose their jobs or lose a paycheck. What’s the happy medium there? Figuring that out, it’s not been easy.”
Another late-night host told Deadline, “It’s probably irresponsible that we’ve not been planning for [a strike] because it seems so likely. But at the same time there’s so much wishful thinking and we’re just trying to hold out hope,” he added.
Saturday Night Live will also be affected for its last three shows of the season if a strike goes ahead. This would impact the Pete Davidson-hosted show on May 6 as well as the season finale, where traditionally castmembers who are leaving give their big goodbye.
One SNL source told Deadline that during the 2007-08 strike there were question marks as to whether the venerable NBC show would ever come back. “It was especially heartbreaking because the show was in really great place then. But at the same time, it was absolutely right. There’s no way to do SNL during a writers strike.
A current SNL cast member added that it’s a very “convoluted” issue. “We have to think about our crew too. I absolutely support the writers and I want the writers to get what they deserve and need, but I don’t want our crew to be out of work. We can’t make this art without each other.”