Amid the ongoing turmoil surrounding Drew Barrymore’s decision to resume her daytime talk show, an essential discussion about the unique dynamics of syndicated TV has been largely overshadowed.
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One week ago, Barrymore sent shockwaves through the industry when she announced her talk show’s return in the midst of strikes led by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). Over the past week, tensions escalated, and Barrymore, typically cherished for her amiable persona, exacerbated the criticism with a second, now-deleted video message. Rather than quelling the backlash, her efforts seemed to intensify it.
While Barrymore remains at the center of this storm, she is not the sole daytime host returning to the airwaves this coming week. “The Jennifer Hudson Show” and CBS’s “The Talk” (which is not syndicated) are set to launch new seasons on Monday, Sept. 18, along with Sherri Shepherd’s “Sherri” and Karamo Brown’s “Karamo.” Notably, these two shows are not affected by the WGA strikes, unlike “Tamron Hall” and “Live with Kelly & Mark,” which have already resumed production. Additionally, ABC’s “The View,” which employs WGA writers, continued its production throughout the strike, in contrast to several others like “The Talk” and “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” which ceased operations last spring.
Some of these returning shows have faced backlash, including picketing outside a taping of “The Talk” and White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre canceling an appearance on “The View” in solidarity with striking writers. However, Barrymore stands out as the only host who attempted to address her return preemptively on social media, declaring her intention to work during the strikes, which immediately made her a target.
Interestingly, Barrymore’s explanation for her return did not encompass a critical aspect: Syndicated TV shows carry contractual obligations to deliver new episodes to their local station affiliates. In contrast to network shows like “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” or “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” which have fixed slots on a network’s schedule, nationally syndicated daytime talk shows like “The Drew Barrymore Show” must produce a specific number of episodes throughout each television season for over 200 local stations.
In essence, this is a business-driven decision, and Barrymore did not make it in isolation. Hosts like Barrymore are bound by contracts with major media production companies and, like any regular job, must eventually return to work. Syndicated talk shows are typically mandated to provide 35 to 40 weeks of new episodes to their affiliate stations, or risk losing their show.
“A daytime talk show employee elaborated, stating, “We have 200 clients that we have to deliver original episodes to. It’s not a network show. With late night, you have one client: the network.”
Certainly, shows like “Drew” and “Jennifer Hudson” could have postponed their premieres and restructured their annual production schedules, hoping for an end to the strikes. However, with no resolution in sight for the ongoing WGA and AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) impasse, local stations and advertisers are anticipating fresh content this fall from the shows they pay substantial license fees to broadcast.
Frank Cicha, Executive Vice President of Programming for Fox Television Stations, which carries many national syndicated talk shows, including “The Jennifer Hudson Show,” explained, “In theory, you could push back your debut if you’re concerned about the strike. But there are already more repeats than anybody needs, so the idea of your main talk shows not coming back, that gets a little scary.”
In a landscape where streaming has eclipsed traditional linear programming in terms of viewership, the talk show market is fragmented. Daytime schedules are now filled with reruns of classic shows like “The Dr. Phil Show,” “Judge Judy,” “Jerry Springer,” and “Maury,” among others. While these older episodes may appear stale, they feature familiar faces and represent a reliable source of revenue and ratings for distributors.
In contrast, original talk shows such as “Drew,” “Jennifer Hudson,” “Kelly Clarkson,” “Tamron Hall,” “Sherri,” and “Live With Kelly and Mark” are substantial and costly productions at a time when daytime viewership is on the decline. Importantly, “Live,” “Sherri,” and “Tamron Hall” are non-WGA shows.
Frank Cicha noted, “More repeats would just be a quicker death march for syndication. It’s a critical time, and if there’s not a way to do original programming, then you can see the end of national syndication.”
However, for the writers participating in the strike, which has now persisted for over four months, this is a battle for better wages and improved working conditions.
While Barrymore’s own writers have voiced their opposition to the resumption of production, her comments have been met with criticism, including remarks like, “We need E.T. to tell her to go home again.” Comedian Andy Richter argued, “A talk show is not a charity or a humanitarian campaign, it is a money-making machine that can be a fun way to spend an hour. To act otherwise, especially during a strike, is just carrying water for the bosses in a deluded self-important bucket.”
Nevertheless, for those employed in the daytime television industry, their livelihoods hinge on these talk shows, each of which employs anywhere from 150 to 200 staff members, including two to four writers.
CBS Media Ventures, the distributor of “The Drew Barrymore Show,” issued a statement in support of their host, emphasizing the show’s consideration for its 150-plus staff and loyal viewers.
Staff members from other talk shows share a similar perspective. An employee from another current talk show remarked, “We have to come back, or else hundreds of people are out of work. Stations will pull us right off the air—they’ll put us in the middle of the night, and we’ll stay in the middle of the night. That’s just how it works.”
The sentiments of an employee from a different daytime show echoed this sentiment: “If even one major station group pulls out and says they’re not going to run our show, even if they have repeats, that affects ratings and advertising. It affects everything. Why would we risk letting a show die and letting people lose their jobs permanently if we can do a show without violating rules?”
With the strike showing no signs of resolution in the near future, late-night hosts may soon face similar dilemmas regarding their return without their writers, a situation reminiscent of Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel, and Stephen Colbert’s actions during the 2007-2008 strike. However, for now, all eyes are on daytime television.
In the words of Hilary Estey McLoughlin, a veteran of the talk show industry, “It’s a very difficult decision to try to figure out how to move forward, even if you are within the range of what’s acceptable within the [union]. When you have an obligation to the stations, it’s very difficult to take a stance and say you’re not going to go back on. It’ll be a contractual breach, at some point.”