Friday, December 21, 2007

Is Jon Stewart a Scab?

All right, all right. So I have totally derailed my own meme. Sorry about that. I'll get back to it.

It appears that The Daily Show and The Colbert Report will be returning with new episodes on January 7th. Without their writers.

As a writer by trade myself, I have been supporting the Writers' Guild strike by not watching the reruns and crappy reality TV shows the networks have been airing in place of stuff they actually have to pay people to write. I have been resisting the impulse to buy or rent DVDs to fill up my empty television schedule (since DVD residuals are one of the issues currently in dispute).

But, all that's been easy, really. I hate bad reality TV shows. I have better things to do than watch reruns. And my bank account is better off without the DVD purchases.

Can I resist the siren call of Jon and Stephen?

I've been wondering what I would do if the shows came back on the air. I support the writers' strike, and yet, I also honestly believe TDS and the Colbert Report provide a public service, in a very similar fashion as "real" news shows, like, say, NBC's Nightly News, or Meet the Press, do, in that, many people treat The Daily Show and the Colbert Report as their primary news source.

That may sound ridiculous given these shows are presented as comedy, but, in fact, regular Daily Show viewers have been shown to be better informed about American politics than people who rely on newspapers like the New York Times.

Regular news shows have continued to air their programming during the writers' strike, with no protest from the WGA, because providing news is a public service. Should The Daily Show and the Colbert Report be judged as news shows, or as late-night comedy entertainment?

It appears, from this statement released by WGA on the matter, that the Stewart and Colbert may not have had much of a choice about going back to work before the resolution of the strike:

“Comedy Central forcing Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert back on the air will not give the viewers the quality shows they’ve come to expect. The only way to get the writing staffs back on the job is for the AMPTP companies to come back to the table prepared to negotiate a fair deal with the Writers Guild.”

It seems from this quote that the WGA believes Colbert and Stewart were told to go back on the air, or risk permanently losing their timeslot. But so far I have not been able to find further information to either confirm or contradict that notion.

So, what do you think? Are Jon and Stephen being greedy jerks for crossing the picket lines, or does their job as providers of news and political analysis, especially during primary season, trump their responsibility to the Guild? If Comedy Central indeed threatened to cancel the shows altogether (and thus put hundreds of staff besides the writers out of a job), does that in and of itself justify a return, or should they have called Comedy Central's bluff?

Will you watch?


R said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't Leno and Conan coming back too? I can't stand Leno, but Conan puts on a good show. . . but what they are essentially saying is that they can do their show without the writers. I don't care if they're saying that they're doing it for the other staff/crew who have been out of jobs due to the strike; they are now making the stance that the writers are dispensible.

As for Jon Stewart and Colbert. . . yes, they provide a service (and do it better than traditional news services), but they had a choice to make in the beginning. They either had to stand with other news programming from the start, and continue their show from the start. . . or stop filming in support of the writers, and remain so until a deal is made and the strike ends.

My brain is mush after spending 45 minutes waiting to get into a park to see Christmas lights (and then having people go 5mph and completely stop every 50 feet). . . but my point is that I think what they're doing is shady.

Jaelithe said...

Very good point, Rebecca-- if they are going to use the news show excuse, they ought to have stayed on air the whole time.

Jon and Stephen's released statement on the subject, mentioned in the article I linked to, says:

"We would like to return to work with our writers," it said. "If we cannot, we would like to express our ambivalence, but without our writers we are unable to express something as nuanced as ambivalence."

So, at least they are acknowledging that the shows will be missing something major.

Anonymous said...

I love these guys, but they're total scabs.

The networks are less likely to send their lawyers back to the table every time they get any show back on the air. This coup for the networks will only prolong the strike, and hold advertisers over until sweeps.

And I bet these stunt shows with improvised monologues and lots of interviews will be viewed far and wide. Imagine what would happen if SNL came back and was completely improvised. No one in their target demo is going to miss either show on Jan 7, and just in time for the Iowa caucuses, too.

Lisa said...

I don't watch much tv. In fact, I could pretty much live without it. And we don't have cable. So I really don't have much of an opinion on the issue. But I have wondered quite a bit lately what other people are doing/thinking about this...

Anonymous said...

Leno, Conan, Colbert, and Stewart have no choice but to return as their shows are owned by their respective networks. They're not being greedy; they'll be in breach of contract if they don't return. Letterman is the sole talk host who actually owns and produces his own show - as a result he was able to strike an independent deal with the WGA. It's why he was able to jump networks with it so long ago.

So don't be mad at these guys - Stewart and Leno have been paying a good chuck of their staff's salaries in lieu of network checks - be mad at the networks who are forcing their hand.

I support the guild, and am in the process joining, as I have two projects in the mill. I recognize that they are also fighting for my rights. We have not watched network television since the strike.

Dirk VandePol said...

They are being jerks.
I'm extremely disappointed.
I don't care if they're under contract. That's a load of bunk- they ARE Comedy Central. They have so much clout, that if they don't use it in this position to take a principled stance, then they're being beyotches.
Their show is largely funny because it has kept its integrity. When they cross the picket line, they undermine that integrity. You will find the show doesn't seem that funny, not just because there are no good writers feeding him jokes, but because when we watch Stewart, we laugh that "it's funny because it's true". It will feel a lot less true when we know that Stewart and Colbert aren't really on the side of the viewer- they're on the side of themselves, and the almighty dollar, just like everyone else.
99 percent of the humor on the daily show is based on casting disinfecting light on hypocrisy. Now, if they really do come back without a deal from the writers, the light exposing themselves as hypocrites will be blasting on them forever.
Do not think conservatives are waiting to jump on this. They are. They've got a nose for things like this, and frankly, they should- it keeps those on the left honest, and if they really go through with this, then they're not being honest, and I'll be in the unsavory position of having to agree with my enemy that Stewart is not really the guy that provides a true voice of integrity. That's a big piece of crow for me to choke down, and I'm quite angry with Stewart and Colbert for letting me down, and making me eat that crow.
Frankly, I'm very surprised that more is not being made of this. I think it's a scandal.

Anonymous said...

I love it Al Gore Mr green who flies to the supermarket in his G-5. Now we got the man of the people who sticks it to the union. I thought libs supported the union man. said...

Yes, they're scabs. They'll be crossing the WGA picket lines literally.

Anonymous said...

Sad to see a lot of people are gonna lose their jobs over the strike, by making exceptions you say that some members of the guild cannot be fired because they are more important than the average member. John and Steven are members of the WGA and should try and stick with the strike even if it cost the their jobs. Other writers have stuck with the WGA and it has cost them their jobs. Point being even though they are important members of the guild by doing this they say they are more important then the average member who has lost their job. It's sad i like these guys but i think they should stick to there convictions and wait till this situation is worked out before coming back on the air even though they serve a valuable service because thats what it means to stick up for a union/guild. Otherwise they just joined for the benefits without caring to back the up which puts there whole on persona's in question.

Anonymous said...

NO, I won't be watching. They stopped being funny a long time ago, anyway.

Anonymous said...

I will be watching Stewart and Colbert. I feel it shows that they care about their viewers, without whom their shows would not exist.
When the NHL went on strike I stopped watching hockey and haven't gone back. I wonder how many shows will not survive this strike and what will happen to the writers from those shows?

Anonymous said...

Guess what, there's a new episode of Grey's Anatomy on Thursday!

Why aren't you up in arms at them? I'm sure if the actors made a pact or contract (or started a strike) whatever that they would not return to work if they showed new episode before the strike was over, then they would really be supporting the effort because as of now, those scripted sitcoms and shows are not affected from a viewership standpoint at all!!! They won't have to stop airing new episodes until February or later for most scripted. But Stewart, Colbert, and Leno/Conan, they had to stop new episodes the day of the strike.

They have had a lot more to loose thus far. I bet if you didn't have new Grey's or House episodes for a year, almost all viewers would go right back to the shows, especially since many people wait for the DVD of show to watch, so those shows can out last the strike for years essentially before being affected. But with those daily talk shows, that's not the case. They probably wouldn’t survive once they did get back on the air (or at least be severely hurt in viewers, especially with Letterman on the air with his writers!

But, yeah they're scabs, yeah they crossed picket lines, but you would have done the same damn thing in their situation! Knowing you have a lot more to loose than most every other show, especially with no possible end in sight to the strike. You can lie and say you wouldn't because of your infinite "integrity" or whatever but you and they are only human. There are so many other people involved. Others affected are the other staff members, their family’s, Stewart and Colbert’s whole career (remember, most other show actors have yet to even worry about that yet with new shows still going on strong) and family. Not to mention contracts and legal reasons for them specifically. Furthermore, the fans who miss their favorite shows! True, the writers cause is important and their shows need writers, but they are not the only people affected.

I could see being pissed off if most other shows and their stars were being equally affected by the strike, or if those shows just hired a ton upstart comedians to write for them, but I feel that the strike (and your anger) is singling out late night comedy shows.

Jaelithe said...

Um, Guy with too much time on his hands? Are you directing that comment at me, or some of the other people who left comments? Because I think if you reread my post carefully you will see that I am actually on the fence about this issue. I am boycotting all of the other shows. It's TDS and Colbert Report that I'm tempted to watch. And I DO understand that staff members' jobs were on the line, which is why I mentioned it in my post. I in fact used to be a member of IATSE.

Claude said...

I'm unclear about what in the blue blazes the status of Stewart and Colbert is. For that matter, is all of Comedy Central trafe?

Claude said...

I've just found out:

Daily pickets Monday through Thursday - WGAE members, do you have your picket assignments?

Large Rally on Friday, January 25th at Time Warner Center
11 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Monday - Thursday Picket Schedule for the week of January 21

The View/All My Children
W. 66th (west of West End)
8:30-10:30 a.m.

The Daily Show
11th Ave. (51st St.)
4:00-6:00 p.m.
The Colbert Report
513 W. 54th (between 10th and 11th)
4:00-6:00 p.m.

Anonymous said...

Hi guy with time on his hands (obviously I am one too),
You could direct that comment to me, because I'm angry about Stewart and to a lesser extent Colbert, but not Gray's anatomy, or Leno, or anyone else.
Primary reason for the double standard:
I don't really care about those shows. They all suck! Actually, most shows PROBABLY suck, but I don't really know because I don't watch them.
Secondary reason: Because other shows aren't about politics. Who really cares what Leno thinks? Who really listens to Leno, and trusts and learns about the world from him, and gives a rat's hiney whom he votes for? That's not his job- his job is to provide mind-numbing fluffy entertainment. But the humor in Stewart, and to a lesser extent Colbert ISN'T mind-numbing.
Pundits are always talking about how people of a certain demographic actually get their news from Colbert and Stewart. Of course they do! That's because they TRUST them to actually tell them the truth, perhaps even more than a regular news show like CBS, or certainly Fox.
I EXPECT people in TV land to be slimy and to act out of self interest. But I frankly have far higher standards for Stewart and Colbert.
You know, it's complicated. How do we know the demands of the WGA union are reasonable? I am a liberal and tend to give union complaints the benefit of the doubt, and I certainly agree that unions have done tremendous good in obtaining fundamental rights for workers throughout history, but it's not like a union never abused its power to get ridiculously high wages for cushy jobs anyone could do. It's not like unions never went on strike to save outdated jobs that could be replaced by automation, and thereby hurt the competitiveness of American companies.
And why didn't the WGA give Stewart and Colbert their blessing to return to work? Wouldn't they benefit from having Stewart's journalistic satiristic insight there to be an advocate for their cause? I honestly don't know. There's probably a good reason, but I'm sure there's another side to the argument.
Frankly, I would feel better if Stewart said, "I'm returning to work because the union demands are frankly unreasonable." Knowing nothing, I'd be more inclined to believe him than a union I'm unfamiliar with.
...but that's not the situation. It definitely looks like Stewart went back to work because Comedy Central strongarmed him into doing so. So Stewart's speech is free on the show, as long as it doesn't make Comedy Central or its parent company Viacom look bad. So much for free journalistic speech....
...but then, I don't really know. This is all speculation, because I don't know the facts about the demands of the union, nor do I feel like I got a good explanation from Stewart about the reason he chose to return on the five minutes or so in his first returning show when he addressed the issue of the strike. That's the last time I saw the show. I wonder if I'll ever enjoy it again. Probably, but with a little queasy feeling...
By the way, if anyone really knows facts about the strike, or why Stewart chose to cross the line, I sure would like to know...