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Jon Stewart, the Daily Show, the Writers Strike and while we’re at it… some interesting Election graphics… January 19, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Media and Journalism, Television Shows, US Politics.
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It’s sort of fascinating what is happening in Comedy Central. Some of you will have noticed that A Daily Show has returned with Jon Stewart. And the Colbert Report has returned with Steven Colbert. Now, strictly speaking they’re not breaking the Writers Guild of America strike… and it is telling that the WGA has not taken them to task over it.
In part that may be an historical issue. As wiki notes:

Stewart was an important factor in the unionization of the writers for Comedy Central. The Daily Show writers were the first of the Comedy Central’s writers to be able to join the guild, after which other shows followed.[39][40]

Moreover, he has:

…supported the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike, commenting on The Daily Show episode just before the strike in a sarcastic manner about how Comedy Central had made available all of the episodes for free on their website, but with advertising, and said ‘go support our advertisers’. The writers are currently striking over receiving additional money for DVD and iTunes sales as well as future revenue made by streaming shows and movies over the Internet. Upon Stewart’s return to the show on January 7, 2008, he refused to use the title The Daily Show, stating that “The Daily Show” was the show made with all of the people responsible for the broadcast, including his writers. He currently refers to his show as A Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

And anyone who has watched A Daily Show will note the continual jibes he makes about being ‘alone’. It’s certainly a very different programme from The Daily Show with pared back production values, fewer contributions from other comedians and seemingly longer interviews.

It’s a complex issue, just who is and who isn’t strike breaking. Again from wiki on the WGA strike we learn that…

The guild stated it had no plans to target Leno and O’Brien with protests[88] such as were aimed at non-WGA member Carson Daly, who was accused of setting up a joke hotline as a strike-breaking effort[89] when he returned to air.[90] After being back on air, however, Leno was charged by WGA of strike violation after he penned and delivered monologues, but it is unclear as to what action the guild will take.[91][92][93] Later, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert announced that their shows, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, would also return without writers on January 7, 2008.[94] The WGA accused Comedy Central and NBC of forcing hosts back on air by threatening the jobs of the staff and crew of their shows, and said it would picket them.[86][90][95][96] To show respect to the writers, The Daily Show has been renamed, for the duration of the strike, A Daily Show with Jon Stewart. In support of the strike, Screen Actors Guild urged its members to appear on programs that have independent agreements with the WGA, such as The Late Show with David Letterman and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.[97]

Which reiterates some of the information from the first excerpt. Certainly there was a strong sense of duress when Colbert and Stewart noted in a joint statement that:

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

The cover is provided by other talk show hosts who have said:

…they respect the striking Writers Guild of America members, but want to return to work so their non-writing staffs will not be laid off.

The WGA supports this when it says (as reported by CBS):

“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 WGA said in a statement. “The only way to get the writing staffs back on the job is for the AMPTP to come back to the table prepared to negotiate a fair deal with the Writers Guild.”

In truth this is a very real problem that those who support the strike and do not wish to undermine it face. The workers beyond the WGA are particularly exposed. And yet, it’s hardly contentious to suggest the idea that if programmes return to air that that will have its own dynamic by isolating the writers. This may very well be a square that cannot be circled.

And yet, I also can’t help feeling that having shows broadcasting that actually support the strike is no bad thing. They serve to undercut at least some of the messages that the media companies are attempting to establish about the recalcitrance and obstructiveness of the WGA.

The essential role of the writers is proven by the paucity of A Daily Show. It is, to paraphrase Obama, likable enough. But it’s not that likable. And while the WGA is supportive of its presence I’ll continue to watch it particularly for the skew-ways take it has on US political life. But it does set off a degree of cognitive dissonance for me. It’s not quite like passing a picket line (something I’ve never done)… but… it’s close enough.

Meanwhile… seeing as I’m still watching it can I direct your attention to here. Two examples, were examples needed, of the triumph of form over function. Do US voters really need the first board where ‘voters’ are pulled upwards along a screen to different candidates to indicate that they’re ‘voting’. And as for the three dimensional pie chart… It may be me, but doesn’t this represent to some degree something close to contempt for the basic intelligence of the voting public?

Comments»

1. Starkadder - January 19, 2008

Daily Show? I’m afraid I’ve never watched it…is it on
More4?

The brother loves South Park, and I like the Sarah
Siliverman Program.That’s all the Comedy Central
programs I know of .

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2. John Clark - January 19, 2008

Hey, I just came over here from AlterNet to get the 411 on my boys. I knew some of it already but learned the rest here. I watch both online, so I’m the very viewer the writers want a cut of.

There’s an interesting piece on the leaders today in the NYT, it’s worth a read. Now that the directors have settled, it looks like the writers may have to except the pattern for now. I was hoping that the Letterman deal (Santa Claus — even grew a beard) would divide the studios, still waiting for that.

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3. WorldbyStorm - January 20, 2008

Yeah, it’s on More4. I’ll have to look at the NYT piece John…

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4. Eagle - January 20, 2008

What so you make of the WGA’s decision to allow its members to work the NAACP’s Image Awards ceremony? It seems to me that you can’t be helping your cause when you allow some members to work adn earn money while others remain income-less.

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5. WorldbyStorm - January 20, 2008

Hmmm… well, I guess the other way of looking at it is that the optics are good…

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6. Sefronia - January 21, 2008

I had to laugh at the comment you made regarding “form over function” and you noting it could be insulting to the US voting populace. What I detest about comedians like Stewart is that his response would be that he was being “ironic”. You either are overtly brain-dead or “beyond these things” to the Utne reader crowd.

The strike looks to me like mass confusion on both sides. Mr Burns and Homer Simpson are singing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” in 2008. There is little wiggle room.

Yes, Stewart and Colbert are crossing the picket line. But really, who cares? They can’t be “progressive” and salivate over John McCain on their respective show(s) (particularly Stewart, since Colbert is in Irony Overload, playin’ the pseudo-fawning acolyte to Bill O’Reilly). Their comedians, and their populist stance is paper thin.

But, really, bottom line, things are going to break before they reactivate. I remember reading O’Brien came out the first night back with a group of women called the “Eugene V. Debs”…..no one in the audience understood the joke.

If ya don’t know your history, you have to go through another painful turn on the wheel.

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7. Sefronia - January 21, 2008

“they’re comedians” I meant…….damn, I always detest making human errors!

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8. WorldbyStorm - January 21, 2008

Hmmm, that’s a lot of good points you make Sefronia… I’m particularly taken by your last. Re Stewart and Colbert, it’s true it’s a fine line… I’m just glad someone is exploring it…

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9. Eagle - January 21, 2008

I always detest making human errors!

Sefronia, I have to admit I’m intrigued. What other sorts of errors do you make?

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10. lefty27 - January 26, 2008

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

If you cannot! Fuck your ambivalence- you are crossing the line. There’s a word for that.

…they respect the striking Writers Guild of America members, but want to return to work so their non-writing staffs will not be laid off.
.
Strikes are supposed to hurt, that’s the idea. This is a lame excuse, pathetic really

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11. WorldbyStorm - January 27, 2008

Yeah, it does seem a bit lame alright. Hence my unease… the WGA should issue an edict or clarification…

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