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rare female film critic | by maryann johanson

Stewart and Colbert will return to the tube… but should they?

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will return to the air with new shows on January 7, and as much as I miss them, I wish they weren’t. The strike by the Writers Guild of America continues with no end in sight, even though

Last week, Wall Street firm Bear Stearns issued a report stating that even if the Writers Guild got every single provision it has been asking for in a new contract, the impact on the conglomerates’ bottom line would be “negligible.”

(That’s via the WGA strike blog United Hollywood.)
The impact on the bottom lines of the talk show hosts — including others such as Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno, David Letterman, and others, who also will be back at work next week — is another matter, however. Many of them “have been using personal funds to pay the non-writers on their production staffs during the strike, in hopes of buying time until a settlement could be reached” (according to The Washington Post), and The New York Times reports that the WGA has “accused Comedy Central of forcing [Stewart and Colbert] back to work.” It’s certainly easy to imagine that they (and the other late-night hosts) have contracts that give them no choice but to return even if it makes them, WGA members themselves, something like scabs.

The shows have worked out a deal with the Guild that allows them to operate without writers — The Washington Post has the details:

[I]n essence, they can’t write material that their striking writing staffs would have produced for them. That means no topical monologues, no characters, no skits or Top 10 lists… Of course, much may depend on what the definition of “writing” is. Does Leno have to ad-lib every joke in his 10-minute monologue to remain within the rules? Would scribbling a few prompts on a cue card constitute “writing”? Would Stephen Colbert’s “The Word” segment be kosher if he just riffed on a word at random?…

The shows are also likely to be missing another staple — glamorous, big-name celebrities pushing their latest movies and TV shows. Members of the Screen Actors Guild have pledged solidarity with the writers and are likely to boycott the shows.

A commenter on the issue at Truthdig has suggested that Stewart and Colbert have striking writers as their guests. My friend Bonnie thinks the hosts should just sit there staring silently into the camera to emphasize the importance of writers.

I think, hell, why stop there? Why even bother going back to TV? Half of the people who watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report do so on the Internet anyway… so why not cut out the middleman?

Seriously, why shouldn’t shows like these just go right to the Internet? A new union — let’s call it the Writers’ Guild of the Internet — can cover it, with fair profit sharing for everyone.

Of course there would be all sorts of legalities involved with making the break with the corporations who have their greedy fingers in these pots at the moment. But there comes a point at which you have to say that the rules and the laws are unjust, and are no longer serving their purpose. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams didn’t worry too much about the legality of declaring independence from England — maybe it’s going to take something as dramatic to get us out from under the boot of unfair corporate rule, too.

Who better to get us started that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert?

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