I’M BAD, I’M NATIONWIDE: As I’m writing this, I’m being interviewed in five-minute segments for a variety of CBC Radio local shows across the country, doing my best impersonation of an expert on the Hollywood writers’ strike for the nice folks listening in across the country in Halifax, Windsor, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Victoria. By the time the deadline for this column rolls around, I’ll be thoroughly sick of the sound of my own voice.
The cause of all of this is that last night, after a round of white-knuckle negotiations that probably screwed up somebody’s holidays, David Letterman’s production company was able to cash in the waiver that it obtained from the Writer’s Guild of America, allowing Letterman and his farm team show hosted by Craig Ferguson to return to the air, with writing staff, and without a pesky picket line outside their studios discouraging guests from making appearances.
This brought the late night game of strike chicken to a confrontation that’s forced Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien back on the air – without writers, and with picket lines. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will follow suit next week, similarly without their writing staffs. As Tommy Lee Jones said in one of my favorite movies of the last year, if this ain’t a mess, it’ll do till the real one comes along.
As I write this, I’m more than halfway across the country, and have repeated the same facts and opinions about the strike a half dozen times now. With repetition, what’s become clearer to me is that 1) Letterman must either be a lot more charming than his reputation allows, or the WGA are a lot more pathetically starstruck, and 2) No matter how you cut it, this was a bad move by the WGA – the latest in a series, in fact.
Morale at the WGA isn’t stellar – in a letter to striking guild members over the holidays, Michael Winship, president of the east coast chapter of the WGA, admitted that he “hit the wall the Friday before Christmas, momentarily overcome by frustration and annoyance.” Another writer, who was going back to work, e-mailed Nikki Finke of the L.A. Weekly to pass on some sense of the betrayal felt by many writers with the Letterman waiver: “I have gotten five phone calls tonight from feature writers and every single one of them has said some variation on, ‘Bullshit on this.Why am I looking at staying out of work until April when these guys are going to start picking up paychecks on Tuesdays?’ ... You don't maintain solidarity by letting a handful of guys go back to work. So what's next: Lorne's people go back to work? Then Colbert's people go back to work?”
As you read this, David Letterman has likely delivered a monologue built entirely around strike gags, and Jay Leno has led his audience in a singalong of 99 Bottles Of Beer On The Wall. Starting in a few weeks, American Idol will dominate primetime like Jabba The Hutt on a camp stool, and we’ll all start wondering if The Wire is as good as they said it was. And somewhere, at least once every fifteen minutes, a writer will wonder if he should have dropped out of pre-med.