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Late-night hosts return from the writers’ strike: ‘I missed my writers so much’

John Oliver at the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Sept. 12, 2022.  (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)
By Christi Carras Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — The first TV series to go dark during the Hollywood writers’ strike were also among the first to return to the air this week after the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers reached a tentative deal to end the monthslong work stoppage.

Late-night TV hosts Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert premiered their first episodes in five months of their respective shows on Monday, while John Oliver came back on Sunday. The comedians, all of whom are also writers, each addressed the resolution of the labor dispute in their own way — after enthusiastically welcoming back and soaking in the thunderous applause from their studio audiences, of course.

Consistent with the watchdog tone of his program, Oliver gave the major studios a piece of his mind while celebrating the culmination of the writers’ strike, which lasted 148 days, on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.”

“The Writers Guild went on strike and thankfully won, but it took a lot of sacrifices from a lot of people to achieve that,” Oliver said.

“And while I’m happy that they eventually got a fair deal and immensely proud of what our union accomplished, I’m also furious that it took the studios 148 days to achieve a deal that they could have offered on day f— one.”

Oliver also encouraged other workers in the entertainment industry and beyond to “find power in each other” and stand up to their employers. He specifically voiced support for the Hollywood crew members union, IATSE, and the performers union, SAG-AFTRA, which is currently on strike.

“I really hope the actors union and IATSE … will be able to take what the writers achieved and leverage it to win fair contracts for themselves too,” Oliver said. “Because the truth is, it takes many people working really hard to make film and TV — all of whom deserve a piece of the pie.”

Kimmel also advocated for his “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” crew members “and all the union crews who supported the writers” by refusing to cross the picket line — “and we owe them for that,” he added.

“This is a big win for the little guy and a big win for the chubby guy and the hairy dude and the weird girl who doesn’t make eye contact,” Kimmel quipped.

“For the two potheads in the ‘Star Wars’ T-shirts that are too small for their bodies and the guy who’s too old to have a ponytail and the lady whose cats each have their own Instagram pages. We call them writers, and they are all back to work. Thank you.”

Meyers, who got his start as a writer on “Saturday Night Live,” championed the cause as well and expressed his gratitude to the WGA negotiating committee for “all the personal time they sacrificed … for the very fair deal that all the writers deserved.”

“I am so happy to be back in a room with my writers, everybody,” Meyers said on “Late Night.” “I missed my writers so much. I was so happy to see them this morning.”

“I will admit by lunch I was a little over it,” he jokingly added. “They’re really talented. They just have a ton of opinions, you know?”

After praising his writers and the WGA, Meyers took a moment to acknowledge that his longtime employer, NBC, “made some very compassionate choices about the people who work at this show and at this network” during the strike, “and it did not go unnoticed.”

“Even though we were on opposite sides … they have my gratitude for that,” he said.

The “Late Show” audience whooped and cheered when Colbert announced that the writers’ strike had ended “with a new contract that includes protections against” artificial intelligence, “cost-of-living increases” and “better pay for streaming.”

“Plus, thanks to the picket lines, my writers got fresh air and sunshine, and they do not care for that,” he quipped. “Now they’re back safely in their joke holes, doing what they do best: making my prompter word screen full of good and haha.”

Fallon made a similar quip on “The Tonight Show” after remarking that he’s “so happy the writers finally got their fair deal that they deserve.”

“Only writers would spend all summer fighting to go back to the office,” he joked. “What do we want? To go back inside! We’re not beach people.”

After addressing the elephant in the room, the hosts got down to business on Monday, recapping the last five months as quickly and as humorously as possible. Some hurried through jokes about the “Bachelor” aging 50 years and former President Donald Trump getting arrested anywhere from four to 154 times since the writers’ strike began, while Fallon summarized the extended hiatus in song.

“We have so much news to cover, but I’m gonna sum it up … in just two words,” Fallon said. “Taylor Swift.”

Because they depend on staffs of writers to pen timely material in the hours and minutes leading up to each taping, late-night TV series immediately shut down in May as a result of the WGA strike. Unlike scripted programs, talk shows don’t have a bank of pre-written episodes from which they can pull in the event of a mass work stoppage — so late-night TV staples such as “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and “The Tonight Show” have been off the air for quite some time.

Though some of them are also members of SAG-AFTRA, the late-night hosts are permitted to perform during the ongoing actors’ strike because their shows are covered under a separate deal with the union known as the Network Television Code. But that isn’t the case for their celebrity guests, which were mostly limited Monday to musicians, scientists and authors — including some actors who were careful to promote their books and nothing else.

Kimmel was joined by actor and author Arnold Schwarzenegger, who reflected on serving as governor of California during the previous writers’ strike in 2007 and 2008.

“You try to inspire them to speed up the process,” Schwarzenegger told Kimmel. “That’s the most important thing you can do. But the things that you wish you could do, you can’t do.”

“Imagine … you say, ‘The studio executives and the union leaders, they have to go in a room,’ and you lock them up,” he joked. “And [they] can’t get out before the strike is settled. … You say, ‘Then there will be no food. No bathrooms. No nothing.’”

Daytime talk shows, such as CBS’ “The Talk” and “The Drew Barrymore Show,” are expected to return soon as well. The syndicated “Jennifer Hudson Show” wasted no time kicking off its new season on Monday.

During the writers’ strike, the five major late-night hosts teamed up to record a podcast called “Strike Force Five,” which provided financial aid to their out-of-work employees. Kimmel came up with the idea after the hosts decided to meet weekly to talk about what was going on, according to Meyers. Some hosts also pledged to pay their dormant staff out of their own pockets during part of the work stoppage.