After a chaotic week, daytime television is under the biggest spotlight it’s had in some time. Trouble is, the shows making headlines are largely the ones not airing.
Drew Barrymore announced Sunday morning that she was reversing course, pausing her daytime talk show after a week of withering criticism surrounding her return to production, which required that she cross a Writers Guild of America picket line. Within hours of Barrymore’s mid-weekend decision, both The Talk, which like The Drew Barrymore Show is under the CBS umbrella (The Talk is a network show, Drew comes from the company’s syndication arm), and The Jennifer Hudson Show, from Warner Bros., announced that they, too, would halt their planned premieres, which were scheduled for Monday. Though they escaped much of the ire directed at Barrymore, The Talk and Hudson’s show had come in for criticism of their own, with writers picketing outside the CBS Radford lot where The Talk tapes last week. (NBCUniversal’s The Kelly Clarkson Show, which relocated from Los Angeles to New York ahead of the show’s fifth season, has not yet announced a premiere date.)
Behind the scenes, executives and producers across the landscape had been monitoring the fallout closely. According to multiple sources, guests booked at several of the shows that were either already on or set to return were getting increasingly nervous about being caught in the crosshairs. More than a few – including comics, political folk and game show hosts – had quietly pulled out of their commitments, which had added a layer of chaos and anxiety to an already stressful period. At least two guests are believed to have canceled planned appearances on Drew before Barrymore herself pulled the plug.
In recent days, Drew was being viewed as the cautionary tale, though several place at least some of the blame at Barrymore’s feet. More than one suggested her first mistake was to attempt to pre-emptively defend her decision to return without the show’s three striking writers in a Sept. 10 Instagram post, which made her a target. Making matters worse, in that same post, she reminded everyone that back in May she had done precisely the opposite, bowing out of her hosting duties at the MTV Movie and TV Awards in solidarity with the WGA. Then, on Thursday, amid a barrage of picketers and intense criticism, she spoke out again, posting an emotional video that claimed, among other things, that “this is bigger than me.” The video drew still more backlash, and by Friday night, it was deleted. Sunday, Barrymore revealed the reversal.
“I have listened to everyone, and I making the decision to pause the show’s premiere until the strike is over,” she wrote on Instagram. “I have no words to express my deepest apologies to anyone I have hurt and, of course, to our incredible team … We really tried to find our way forward, and I truly hope for a resolution for the entire industry very soon.”
Meanwhile, ABC’s The View is continuing with new episodes filmed without its two WGA writers. And though the panel show has seen its share of picketers, it has not faced anywhere near the same level of backlash. In fact, Monday’s show was business as usual, as the panel discussed U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert being kicked out of a theater performance in Denver and Donald Trump’s Meet the Press interview the day before. The hosts had addressed the writers strike briefly when it began in May, but they’ve continued working the whole time. Sources told THR at the onset of the WGA strike that while The View employs a couple guild members, their work would not be done by others during the strike. The WGA maintains that these shows inherently involve writing.
Elsewhere, Sherri Shepherd’s Sherri moved forward with its Sept. 18 premiere, though the talker from Lionsgate’s Debmar-Mercury has never employed WGA writers and is not a signatory to the guild’s agreement. Shepherd told her audience Monday that while she stands in solidarity with SAG-AFTRA, the actors union, during its strike, her talk show is covered under a different contract (the so-called Network Code, which also includes game shows and variety shows) that is still in effect. “The Sherri show is not a WGA show, and we have never employed WGA writers, so us coming back to work isn’t crossing the picket line,” she said. “As a comic, my comedic take on the headlines is my voice. I write the jokes. I’m the writer … Producers help me shape my words. That’s why we don’t have WGA writers at Sherri. My heart is breaking for all of the people that can’t work right now and I hope our industry can get this strike resolved soon.”
Still, multiple sources say Sherri, too, has seen several guests get cold feet. The show had previously announced Wayne Brady, who recently came out as pansexual, as its premiere day guest, billing it as a “daytime exclusive,” only to have comedian Michelle Buteau appear instead. According to a source close to production, Brady got nervous and pulled out a few days before. Other non-WGA daytime shows, including Live With Kelly and Mark, Tamron Hall and Karamo, are also proceeding as normal. The latter two are less reliant on celebrity guests, while Live’s status as the top-rated talk show in syndication has seemingly given its guests some cover to appear — though SAG-AFTRA members are barred from promoting work for struck companies under the union’s strike rules.
The daytime drama — not to be confused with daytime dramas, which are also still in production during the dual strikes — is shining a light on a part of the TV landscape that has waned in significance during the streaming era. Where a titan like Oprah Winfrey could once draw in 10 million viewers or more each day, the biggest daytime talkers now get maybe a quarter of that. Plenty worry that benching these shows now could do irreparable damage, as still more viewers find new ways to fill their time. But, says one panicked producer, “What choice do we have?”