After seven weeks of silence, late night talk hosts return to the air tonight – but without their writers, who promise to picket outside the shows until the strike is resolved. While David Letterman negotiated a deal for writers to return to his and Craig Ferguson’s shows, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert must improvise monologues and sketches to fill air time without their writers.
Letterman likely took the lead from Johnny Carson’s efforts during the 1988 strike, in which Carson eventually negotiated a deal for his writers to return while the strike continued. While Carson briefly mentioned the strike in his return to the air, he did not use the strike for material for his show, instead filling time with musical performances and skits.
Letterman took a different route in 1988 – one that he will hopefully resurrect tonight.
"The producers happen to be, in my opinion, money-grabbing scum," he said in one of a number of skewering references to the studios. "I want to make sure people understand I’m in favor of the writers guild."
Twenty years later, we need to hear the same from TV hosts and their guests. Letterman seems to be alone in his vocal support of the writers strike – Leno, Conan, Stewart, and Colbert should speak up, too, so their viewers know where they stand and what’s at stake.
Meanwhile, potential late night guests must now decide whether to honor the strike and not appear on picketed shows, or to cross the picket line for their shameless self-promotion. The first person to break indulge themselves and cross the picket line? Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who is slated to appear with Jay Leno tonight. But when asked why he was crossing a picket line, Huckabee feigned ignorance, insisting that "he was unaware that he would be crossing a picket line and believed that the program had reached a special agreement with the union." Even worse: last week Huckabee proclaimed his support for the writers, saying that "he identified with the striking television workers as an author himself and believed they deserved a share of the proceeds from the sale of their work." Sorry, Mike – that’s probably not a great way to head into Iowa tomorrow.
Late night hosts and guests have a platform to tell America the truth about why late night shows are different. It’d be a shame if the hosts didn’t take advantage of this chance to stand in solidarity with their writers.
YouTube of striking writers talking about what is at stake for them and for the future, via United Hollywood.