Live from New York, it’s…well, nobody, at least for a while. Since the beginning of May, scripted television programming (particularly late night) has been effectively suspended due to the Writers Guild of America strike.
In its simplest form, the strike relates to a contract dispute between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The WGA’s primary concerns include fairness of stream flows, functional security, and limiting how AI software such as ChatGPT is used in writers’ rooms. The WGA and AMPTP were unable to agree on a new contract, so the WGA went on strike on May 2, 2023.
Approximately 11,500 screenwriters at the WGA immediately went out of business, effectively bringing film and television productions to a halt. Nowhere was this more pressing than in the world of late-night television. Since these shows are usually filmed on the day of broadcast, it stopped airing new episodes the same day the strike began.
With so little progress being made, when can we reasonably expect to see these shows again? Also, the one thing audiences have to ask themselves after the current month-and-a-half hiatus is whether they honestly missed these late-night shows.
How does the strike affect production?
The 2023 WGA strike is the first in 15 years and the fifth in recent history after 1960, 1981, 1988 and 2007-08. The circumstances this time are very different compared to the last strike. For example, streaming media was still in its infancy in 2008, and the idea of artificial intelligence replacing human writers seemed like something out of science fiction. But these are the times we live in, and writers need to adapt to new challenges.
Another big difference relates to timing. Since this strike began at the beginning of May, the network’s scripted programs have already completed filming for the year. There was no actual outage until the end of the 2022-23 TV season. The 2007-2008 raid was different, as it took place between November and February.
This resulted in nearly every scripted show on broadcast television being suspended for months in the heart of the television season. Depending on how delayed this current strike is, we could see a similar delay affect the start of the 2023-24 TV season (with changes already expected for the Emmys in September).
Why did the late night shows stop and when will they return
Although most of the scripts were saved from the immediate fallout by the summer hiatus, the same couldn’t be said of Late Night. Effectively breaking them began at the very moment of the strike. shows like Saturday Night LiveThe Little Show, The Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Daily Show, Late Night, Last Week Tonight, Real Time with Bill Maher, and most of all immediately stopped production. The only person who survived a downtime was James Corden, though that was because late late showThe final episode of the series aired just five days before the strike began.
Most of these late night shows are off the air. While the networks still follow the old TV season from September to May, late-night and cable TV shows are broadcast year-round (except SNL, and who still takes summer vacation). Primetime shows programmed are almost always off in the summer, so nothing different on that front just yet. But viewers have come to expect the likes of Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and Seth Meyers to be on screen all summer long. But honestly, is there a huge push to get it back on the air?
This is not an attitude one way or the other to the quality of these performances, nor the strike as a whole. All the writers want a quick and fair end to the strike, a return to the writers’ rooms and re-scripted TV shows. Viewers also don’t want any long downtime from their favorite shows. But what about late at night, specifically? The truth is, no campaign targets them alone.
Realistically, when can we get these late-night comics on the air? If this blow continues throughout the 2007-2008 withdrawal period, that gives us a mid-August return date. However, the 1988 WGA strike remains the longest. If 2023 continues as long as it does, we won’t see scripted TV shows return to production until early October. Given the distance left between the WGA and AMPTP, viewers should prepare themselves to strike at the longer end.
The big question: Do we miss watching late-night TV?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, because every viewer has his or her own opinion. There are still fans who tune in to these shows every night. But that number is steadily shrinking, and their time is not doing them any favors. Most television viewers don’t watch TV at 11:30pm on a weeknight.
Most late night fans watch the clips the next day on YouTube. This is evident in the Nielsen ratings on these shows, which are usually very low compared to prime time shows. They still attract millions of views on YouTube, so the audience is there. Just not late at night.
Then you have the detractors who simply hate the shows. They may think the host or format is unfamiliar, but most of the hate is all political. These viewers feel that the late-night comedy is politically biased, making fun of Republican politicians and policies far more so than Democrats. And that’s right. Late at night it veers to the left (with the surprising exception of Bill Maher, who was veering to the right).
In an effort to capitalize on the absence of Republican comedy, Fox News has recently entered the wildly right-leaning nightclub business. Gutfeld!. When Late Night returns, it’s doubtful its content will change, so they shouldn’t rely on casting these political pundits as new viewers.
Late night shows have their loyal fans, though not in the numbers they once enjoyed. Most people are limited to 15 minutes of click time Carpool Karaoke Video during lunch break. In this way, late night fans miss out on their shows. But should they watch TV, which the landscape suffers without? Honestly, no, I don’t feel like they are.