How are Stewart and Colbert back on the air when the strike is still on? (derail follow-up)
January 10, 2008 4:07 PM   Subscribe

Piggybacking on the derail in this question, and solipsophistocracy's question therein, why are the Daily Show and Colbert Report making new episodes with the writer's strike still going on?

I heard that both Stewart and Colbert are members of the WGA and all the repeated references to the strike during their first shows back on the air lead me to believe that they are both completely sympathetic to the strike. What is going on here? Is it correct to say that they are not violating the strike because they aren't writing anything? How does the Daily Show/Colbert situation differ from the Letterman situation?

I've done a bit of googling, but everything I have come across is so piecemeal. I would love to hear some mefite perspectives on what is going on, especially from folks who are following the ongoing saga more closely then I am.
posted by paddingtonb to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

They are using ghost writers.
posted by wfc123 at 4:08 PM on January 10, 2008

I remember hearing that it was because they do not own their shows, similar to Jay and Conan, they had to return to work.
posted by spacesbetween at 4:09 PM on January 10, 2008

... and you did not hear that from me.
posted by wfc123 at 4:09 PM on January 10, 2008

On the first night back, jon made a rather pointed statement about how they had begged the WGA to let them have the same kind of deal as WorldWidePants (Letterman), but were turned down flat.
posted by nomisxid at 4:11 PM on January 10, 2008

Stewart and Colbert's shows are owned by Viacom, who have not come to terms with the WGA. John and Steve have to do what they are told since they are under contract with Viacom. Letterman's show is owned by his own company (Worldwide Pants), and they came to terms with the WGA almost immediately.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:17 PM on January 10, 2008

For clarification, Letterman's production company, Worldwide Pants, owns the show (as well as Craig Ferguson's show) and thus, they can negotiate with the WGA apart from CBS (much to CBS's chagrin). Worldwide Pants negotiated a settle with the WGA and thus, Letterman and Ferguson returned with WGA writers.

Conan, Leno, Stewart, Colbert, et al. do not own their shows and thus cannot negotiate with the WGA apart from their respective networks. Thus, they are back without WGA writers. Whether that makes them scabs or not is a substantially more murky issue.
posted by Nelsormensch at 4:17 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Googling suggests that, since Colbert and Stewart are WGA members, they can do their shows, but that it has to be unscripted. I have no idea if this is correct, or whether there are any credible rumors that they are using ghost writers.
posted by !Jim at 4:17 PM on January 10, 2008

Best answer: Simply put, Colbert and Stewart have multiple roles on their shows, which are under the auspices of multiple contracts. it puts them in an awkward position of being contractually obligated to work as performers even though they are on strike as writers.

The situation is even more awkward because shows that aren't in production don't need grips, gaffers, camera men, catering folk, musicians and everyone else who isn't a writer, so if Colbert and Stewart refused to act as performers in support of the WGA strike, a lot of their co-workers on their shows would get fired.

The WGA would actually have more of a beef with Colbert, because he performs the show as a character who is demonstrably different from himself. I read that under WGA rules, performers are allowed to perform material they develop themselves, unless that material is derivative of work typically done by WGA writers. (It's why Conan won't actually use his "Walker, Texas Ranger" lever, despite continuing to show Walker clips... the lever is a creation of his writers.) Since the Colbert character could be seen as a creation of Colbert and his writers, as opposed to Stewart simply being Stewart, he couldd be in hot water.

Just like with any strike, there are some writers who already feel they are getting a fair deal, and have more loyalty to the shows they craft than to the demands of the entire WGA. It was true in 1987 that writers secretly "ghost-wrote" for their shows which continued production, and it's almost certainly true now. Just don't expect anyone to admit it, even cryptically, because it would be an issue the guild would really have no choice but to pursue.
posted by chudmonkey at 4:28 PM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

At least one of them, the show owner told the host that if he didn't start doing shows again, they were going to terminate all of the non-striking staff. So he decided he had to start creating shows again in violation of the strike, to save all their jobs. (I thought I saved a link to the news article that said that, but I've looked in my bin and it isn't there. Sorry.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:58 PM on January 10, 2008

it would be an issue the guild would really have no choice but to pursue.

What would the consequences be?
posted by jpdoane at 7:39 PM on January 10, 2008

What would the consequences be?

Dismissal from or censure by the Guild - depending on the severity of the infraction, any union can dismiss a member (preventing them from working in union shops, essentially) or impose a fine.

I'd be astonished if the WGA ever tried anything toward Conan or Jon Stewart or any other high-profile writer, but I would not be surprised if they were extra officious and jerk-y with no-names, just to make a point.
posted by chudmonkey at 10:12 PM on January 10, 2008

Since the Colbert character could be seen as a creation of Colbert and his writers, as opposed to Stewart simply being Stewart, he couldd be in hot water.

That seems like a pretty big stretch. First off, the real life version of Conan and Stewart are hardly the over-the-top characters they play on tv, which share their names. Secondly, the Colbert character predates the Colbert show and probably is the sole creation of Colbert himself.

Lastly, its worth mentioning that these people have to go back to work. If not they'll lose their jobs, thus no more shows for these writers to write for. I really hate this "burn the witch" mentality that goes on during strikes. These people are protecting the jobs of a whole lot of people and should deserve some credit, not accusations.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:42 AM on January 11, 2008

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