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NEW YORK — “The Drew Barrymore Show” will begin airing new episodes Monday, but much of the off-air controversy will cling to its regular host.
Barrymore — the daughter of a proud acting dynasty — is preparing new sets for her syndicated talk show despite pickets outside her studio, as daytime television becomes the latest battleground in Hollywood’s ongoing labor struggle.
“It’s been almost four months since this strike, and it’s not surprising that there are dissenters,” said Michael H. Leroy, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “I couldn’t predict this would happen on daytime television, but everyone has a breaking point in a labor dispute.”
“The Drew Barrymore Show,” which is operating without its three union writers, is not the only daytime show resuming. “The View” is back for its 27th season on ABC, while “Tamron Hall” and “Live With Kelly and Ryan” — which are not subject to Writers Guild rules — are also producing new episodes. “The Jennifer Hudson Show” and “The Talk” will also resume on Monday.
As long as the hosts and guests do not discuss or promote work covered by television, theatrical, or live broadcast contracts, they are not technically breaking the strike. This is because talk shows are governed by a separate contract—the so-called network code—from the contract that the actors and writers draw attention to. The network code also covers reality television, sports, morning news programs, soap operas, and game shows.
“I know there’s nothing I can do that will make it acceptable to those who don’t agree with that. I totally accept that,” Barrymore said in a video posted Friday on Instagram that was later deleted. “I just want everyone to know that my intentions were never in a place to upset or hurt me anymore. That’s not who I am.”
The ongoing strike pits the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents Disney, Netflix, Amazon and others.
Zedd Ayers Dorn predicted that the return of daytime hosts, producers and studio crews would lead to some awkward exchanges., Writer, professor, and director of the MFA in Writing for Screen and Stage at Northwestern University.
“It’s kind of amazing that they’re going back to work with their writers picketing outside the studio doors,” said Dorn, the Writers Guild member. “They are literally walking next to the picket line of workers they say they support.”
Barrymore’s decision to return to the air was met with disapproval on social media. “You have the heart and mind to make more of this community needs,” one viewer wrote on Instagram. Another was more blunt: “You can’t play a generous, connected character when it makes sense for you financially and then lose when your wallet is at risk.”
Actress and activist Alyssa Milano, who has been friends with Barrymore for many years, also criticized the comeback. He described it as “not a great move.”
“I love her very much — I grew up with her — but I’m not sure this was the right move to strike. I’m sure in her eyes it’s the right move for her and the show, but as powerful as the WGA and SAG and the union are — it’s not a great move.”
Barrymore’s stance has also been met with some confusion since her withdrawal from hosting the MTV Movie and TV Awards in May., The first big prizes are broadcast during the strike. “I have listened to the writers, and to truly respect them, I will stop hosting the MTV Movie & TV Awards in solidarity with the strike,” she wrote at the time.
She has since lost another hosting gig: the National Book Awards in November. The organization canceled its invitation “in light of the announcement of the resumption of production of The Drew Barrymore Show.”
Leroy, who has studied conflicts between workers and employers for 30 years, warned that TV shows like Barrymore’s series may think they can survive without union writers but may find long-term costs.
“No member of the Writers Guild will work with this show again,” he said. “It’s a short-term feel-good moment or a moment of relief for Drew Barrymore and perhaps others, but in the long-term, in my view, they’ve essentially given themselves an early retirement.”
He pointed to other strikes in the past that left bitter feelings for decades, such as when Major League Baseball umpires went on strike in 1999. New umpires were hired and combined with veteran umpires but tensions persist.
“For the next 25 years, these referees would not be talking to each other if they were tasked with officiating games together,” Leroy said. “Twenty-five years of untouchability. People don’t forget it.”
Viewers tuning in to new episodes of daytime talk shows these days will find a changing landscape. Guests aren’t always celebrities who host TV shows or blockbuster movies to promote. Since the strike began, authors, musicians and comedians have begun to fill the voids.
This week, Neil deGrasse Tyson was on “Live With Kelly and Ryan” talking about the science behind the Hulk while Cedric the Entertainer was telling Hall about his first novel. Matthew McConaughey was on “The View” to promote his book “Just Because.”
Hosts like Barrymore may be in a lose-lose situation — they’re contractually obligated to return to work but are sure to incur the wrath of their colleagues when they do. “This is bigger than just me,” she noted last week.
Bill Maher, who also announced he would be returning to his late-night talk show, framed his reasons as a desire to help all of his employees, saying writers “aren’t the only people with issues and problems and concerns.”
Dorn couldn’t believe it: “They talk about wanting to support people who are getting by. But Bill Maher and Drew Barrymore and the hosts of ‘The View’ don’t just do that. They can just as easily stand by their colleagues.” “Workers are in the industry and saying, ‘We’re not going to feed the studio pipeline until they make a fair offer,'” he said.
“They decide, for a host of complex reasons, to return to work and eventually try to end the strike.”
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