Did Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart Violate the Writer's Strike?
Daily Show host Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have long been populist heroes for many of us who cover media and TV -- standing up to the Bush administration's skewed views on the war and other issues, holding the powerful accountable in ways even journalists could only dream of.
So it was jarring to see both of them present new shows Monday night which so clearly violated the rules set forth by the Writer's Guild of America for their current strike -- which finds the union insisting that members cannot present any prepared material on their shows without violating the WGA's work stoppage.
Stewart in particular had clearly worked a lot of stuff out -- he had cheeky graphics and visual gags prepared for many of his jokes, including a funny graphic about how viewers watch TV online and a new name for his program, now dubbed A Daily Show. Still, despite all the pro-union sounding jokes, Stewart -- who is a member of the union -- was clearly not improvising his material and technically was working as a scab.
Later, during an interview with a professor who specializes in labor relations, he wondered openly why the WGA didn't give him a waiver similar to the one it granted David Letterman. Stewart claimed during the broadcast that the Daily Show was willing to accede to the same conditions Letterman had.
What he didn't say and what his guest was either to uninformed or too intimidated to say -- fortunately, strike expert Nikki Finke caught it on her blog -- was that the Daily Show is owned by Comedy Central, which is owned by Viacom, which is one of the big media companies refusing to meet with the WGA to continue negotiations. So it doesn't make a lot of sense for the WGA to grant a waiver to a company which won't accept their terms across its entire organization.
That Stewart would go on air and complain about this situation when he presumably knows why this has happened, felt like the kind of disingenuous footwork that he has skewered so many politicians for indulging.
The fallout from the strike continues to mount: the golden globes have been reduced to a press conference because the screen actor's guild has told members not to attend in solidarity with the WGA -- which, coincidentally, inflates the importance of an awards show the SGA will allow stars to attend: its own Screen Actors Guild Awards.
ABC has dusted off the four-year-old reality show The Mole for airing later this year (reality show producers aren't covered by the strike). And it remains an open question whether the Oscars, which are rarely canceled, will go on as scheduled.
Which makes this a really weird time for TV's greatest political populists to side with The Man.