As the conclusion of the WGA strike approaches, the first area to regain a sense of normalcy is expected to be late-night television. Producers are actively planning to resume broadcasts within the next two to three weeks. “We want to come back ASAP,” said one late night insider, while another insider mentioned: “I think everybody’s leaning forward, like they’re ready to go…. I would look for them to return on October 2 or October 9. I think that they are going to be very motivated to get their crews working again.”
Insiders have reported that certain late-night producers are already sending emails to their staff members, discussing the possibility of returning to work as soon as possible. The exact return date may hinge on developments within the WGA and could potentially be as early as Tuesday.
Given that talk shows are covered by SAG-AFTRA’s network code deal, which is not affected by the current Writers Guild strike, the hosts (who are participating in the strike as WGA members) should be able to resume their shows immediately or shortly after the WGA membership ratifies the new deal. Many insiders anticipate that the major network daily shows will coordinate their return at the same time, continuing the collaborative spirit among competitors that has even led to the “Strike Force Five” podcast featuring Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver. These hosts have maintained close contact during the strike and are likely to want to uphold this spirit of cooperation.
The next phase involves re-establishing contact with crew members, some of whom may have relocated from the show’s New York or Los Angeles production sites during the strike. This also includes reaching out to their writing teams, who have likely been participating in the picket line activities and will be ready to return to work once they receive approval from the Writers Guild.
“I think that the calculation for all these shows is how quickly you can get your crew back to work,” noted an insider. “There’s probably some conversations to be had with labor relations. We’re so close to the finish line that no one wants to step on a guild landmine. But from a production standpoint, I think you could turn it around pretty quickly.”
While the late-night shows, such as “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” and “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” have been absent from the airwaves since late April, several key behind-the-scenes roles have remained active. This includes non-writing executive producers, digital teams, production managers, and talent bookers.
“We’ve been keeping the wheels somewhat in motion,” explained a member of a talk show staff. “So, it’s just sort of dusting off the studio, and getting it back up again… it’s not exactly a light switch, but as long as you can get everybody back in, the network just has to pull repeats and start putting new broadcast shows back on. It’s just about what goes into those shows. And that’s the part that you need a little lead time for, is to figure out exactly what you’re coming back and doing.”
Several shows have been proactive in booking episodes, anticipating their eventual return to production. These shows have been strategizing different guest lists: some featuring SAG-AFTRA guests for when the strike concludes, others with non-SAG-AFTRA guests. Some are considering lists of SAG-AFTRA members allowed to promote non-SAG-related projects or those with guild-approved waivers. Additionally, they are exploring options like musicians, athletes, politicians, reality TV personalities, authors, celebrity chefs, and other potential guests to fill their show slots.
“If you look at all of the shows that have been continuing to run, like ‘CBS Mornings’ or ‘Live with Kelly and Mark’ or the ‘Today’ show, the bookings are good,” one source pointed out. “Oprah and Matthew McConaughey and the like are promoting things that have nothing to do with a SAG project.”
The shows will probably require a few weeks to revitalize their marketing efforts, informing the audience of their return with fresh content. Producers will also aim to accumulate material for the shows during this period.
“I don’t think anyone’s interested in rushing to put a crappy first show together,” one staff member expressed.
Meanwhile, the intermittent production of talk shows during the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a blueprint for swiftly resuming operations.
“Most of those shows are pretty well-oiled machines. And it’s a lot of people that have been working together for a long time. Short of paperwork, I think they can get the operation going quite quickly,” stated an executive with extensive experience in late-night television. “Those pivots happened multiple times through the pandemic, where you’re up, you’re down, you’re at home, you’re back in the studio. And so, everyone’s sharpened those skills quite a bit at rapid adjustment over the past few years. I think that they’re probably better suited to it.”
For broadcast shows, the transition might be smoother. However, in cable television, “The Daily Show” has been relying on guest hosts for quite some time following Trevor Noah’s departure. It may take a bit more time to resume with a fresh lineup of hosts. Similarly, HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” heavily depends on research and writing, which might require additional time for preparation.
In contrast, “Real Time with Bill Maher” was nearly ready to return this weekend. However, Bill Maher decided to postpone the show temporarily while the WGA and AMPTP resumed negotiations. As a result, “Real Time” is likely to make its comeback this upcoming Friday, with only a one-week delay.
The daytime talk shows are facing a similar scenario. Since many of them initially intended to return last week but postponed their season premieres due to a backlash, it should be relatively straightforward for “The Drew Barrymore Show,” “The Jennifer Hudson Show,” and “The Talk” to resume their broadcasts promptly. (“The Kelly Clarkson Show” is currently in the process of constructing its new set in New York and hasn’t confirmed a premiere date yet.)
“Their productions would all be in shape,” according to an insider. “They brought back their crew for those shows. They’d have everybody local and ready, and could probably get going pretty quickly when they decide they can.”