OK, I’m Wrong. Now Act, Already!

Contrary to the opinions of so many people who would still claim to be friends of mine, when it’s brutally clear that no matter how much logic, reason or fact may go into what classifies as nothing more than an educated POV based on decades of actual experience, if there is a narrative that absolutely, unwaveringly, passionately believes otherwise, I have little choice but to go along with the vox populi.  If you live and die by the sword of popular opinion, as is the case for anything that passes as a democracy, that’s ultimately the trade-off.

I can’t begin to tell you how many different social media connections, not to mention a few people I’ve actually MET, have castigated me for daring to even think Drew Barrymore, let alone the reviled Bill Maher, were even remotely justified in their desire to get their respective shows up and running this week, what would normally be a time of year when new fall programs would be anticipated and rating bumps would be almost assured.  And the fact that those seasonal spikes just happen to precede the most active eight weeks of advertising in the world as autumn begins have rarely failed to kickstart consumer and investor confidence, which has just as often translated to rosy forecasts, renewed hope and surprisingly good bonuses, for executives AND rank and file, is without question immaterial to the existential dilemna that writers and actors–those dues-paying union members–insist is the issue at hand now.

Barrymore has come under particular revile for her view, which yo-yoed back and forth last week in anticipation of her fourth season moving forward.  On Friday, after already being pressured by supposed friends and allies who literally begged her to reconsider her views, she finally determined that it was too much of a battle to fight and will push back her new season until the WGA strike ends.  And over the weekend, as VARIETY’s Elizabeth Wagmeister reported and THE INDEPENDENT’s Isobel Lewis reported:  a few more of her daytime sisters capitulated as well:  Per Wagmeister:

 “The Talk” has pushed back its return, following Drew Barrymore’s decision to pause her talk show amid criticism during the writers strike.

“‘The Talk’ is pausing its season premiere scheduled for September 18. We will continue to evaluate plans for a new launch date,” a spokesperson for CBS tells Variety in a statement.

Earlier on Sunday, Barrymore said that she would be pausing her talk show’s return. She had faced swift backlash from the WGA over the past week, as she had been standing by her decision to bring back her talk show.

“I have listened to everyone, and I am making the decision to pause the show’s premiere until the strike is over,” Barrymore wrote on Instagram on Sunday. “I have no words to express my deepest apologies to anyone I have hurt and, of course, to our incredible team who works on the show and has made it what it is today. We really tried to find our way forward. And I truly hope for a resolution for the entire industry very soon.”

And per Lewis:

Jennifer Hudson has followed in Drew Barrymore’s footsteps and backtracked on her decision to resume filming on her talk show amid the ongoing writers’ strike.

Raise your picket signs in triumph, folks,  You got what you wanted.  As so many of you were so quick to remind me and so many others, Barrymore’s got more than enough cache to cover the bills and cost of living for her entire staff, just like the late night talk show hosts are doing.

I wonder how many of them actually read an earlier VARIETY! piece by Wagmeister from earlier last week that accurately recounted exactly why the guarantee that Drew will continue to have that kind of income isn’t a given, and why Hudson in particular is now very much at risk as well”

As Drew Barrymore digs herself into a deeper hole regarding the return of her daytime talk show, lost in the debate is a conversation about the peculiar nature of syndicated TV. 

Syndicated TV shows have contractual obligations to deliver new episodes to their local station partners. Unlike network shows – like “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” or “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” which have permanent real estate on a network’s schedule – nationally syndicated daytime talk shows like “The Drew Barrymore Show” are required to produce a certain amount of episodes to more than 200 local stations throughout each television season.

In other words, this was a business decision — and not one that Barrymore made alone. Hosts like Barrymore are under contract with major media production companies to perform their hosting duties, and like any regular job, they eventually have to show up to work. Syndicated talk shows are typically required to deliver 35 to 40 weeks of new episodes to their station partners. If they don’t, they can lose their show.

Wagmeister knows more than a thing or two about exactly how unforgiving and complex the world of daytime syndicated TV is.  She was an aspiring on-air talent for the now-scuttled FOX first-run series PAGE SIX and worked at the behest of executives whose own careers live and die with tenths of a rating point.  So when she drops a reality check quote like this, it’s from a particularly informed and pointed POV:

In theory, you could push back your debut, if you’re concerned about the strike,” says Frank Cicha, executive vice president of programming for Fox Television Stations, the station group that carries many national syndicated talk shows, including “The Jennifer Hudson Show.” But, he adds, “there are already more repeats than anybody needs, so the idea of your main talk shows not coming back, that gets a little scary.”

And the reality is: while the CBS and Hollywood shows are caving, some other shows are moving forward with new season starting today, as Wagmeister reminded:

Sherri Shepherd’s “Sherri” and Karamo Brown’s “Karamo,” though those two shows are not struck or covered by the WGA, like “Tamron Hall” and “Live with Kelly & Mark,” which have already been back on the air. And ABC’s “The View,” which employs WGA writers, never ceased production during the strike.

Sherri occupies quite a number of key time slots on the FOX-owned stations that Cicha oversees, and often runs back-to-back with Hudson’s show.   There is a long-standing personal and professional connection between Debmar-Mercury, Sherri’s distributor/prodiucer, and FOX station executives.  Karamo’s show, a de facto successor to the legacy of MAURY POVICH’s paternity suit parade airs primarily as counterprogramming to the frothier CBS shows on NBC and CW stations.  And daytime viewers DO watch them, despite the fact that they don’t benefit from WGA talent.

Wanna guess which shows now have a jump start on renewals, and which shows are now more vulnerable to cancellation?

Wanna guess how many hundreds of non-union paying people are sweating this fall out even more so than those who effectively use social media, an overly fawning creative-centric trade press, and good old fashioned union intimidation to keep those picket lines going?

Expressing these kind of sentiments that Wagmeister also reported on?:

“We have to come back, or else hundreds of people are out of work,” an employee on a current talk show tells Variety. “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.”

An employee from a different daytime show echoes 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?”

Probably not, if the kind of vitriol, pressure and insults that even moi received is evidence.  Let alone the kind that Barrymore dealt with.  Because, as we know, she’s got plenty of money to support her workers and can’t possible get a rating without a joke or a skit authored by a paying dues member.  For now.

As any CBS MV executive will admit if asked the right way, the ratings gains Barrymore has achieved have as much, if not more, to do with how Nielsen defines and calibrates syndicated half-hour TV show ratings versus those of one-hour shows.  A trick that the Debmar-Mercury and FOX executives mastered when FAMILY FEUD’s reporting was redefined a decade or so ago, and that yours truly augmented by throwing ten additional daily runs of its commercial time on the nationally distributed Game Show Network into the mix.

But, nope, there’s far, far more at stake here now.  It’s an existential crisis.

So fine, my talented but overly parochial “friends”.  You win.  The strikes continue, at your insistence.

But now it’s incumbent upon YOU to bring to at least the dialogue, if not the bargaining table, better and more informed ideas that simply the concept of “I deserve to paid more for my brain because without it there is no industry”.

The studios know that’s not true.  The stations and advertisers know that’s not true. Viewers know that’s not true.  And, I suspect, deep down, even some of you know it, too.  But, yeah, that union thing.

So let me throw out at least one unsolicited reminder for how you can actually try and move the needle:

You have made access to information a key negotiating point.  The data exists.  There is new management at Nielsen that can provide you with some of it.–the timing of their coup works in your favor.  There is precedent for streamers such as Netflix to provide their own data to creatives in several European territories.  The AMPTP members are apparently even grudgingly willing to allow you to see some of it.  And thanks to the recent decisions by both them and research companies, there are plenty of highly qualified and experienced people besides me who can help you more accurately understand and, yes, even weaponize it in your negotiations, not to mention your precious public images with your friends in the press, particularly those owned by a company that is hoping to have a Golden Globes ceremony worth watching and is running out of time to ensure that is happening.

Instead of using the press to bitch and tear down well-meaning people like Barrymore, perhaps you might find a way to call out those who are your REAL antangonists with facts and perhaps even an economic proposal that some of the fair compensation you seek should be based on formulas that incorporate actual viewing minutes for scenes written in and performed by union-paying members, as well as real net revenue data points that can be obtained from credible third party vendors such as iSpot.tv?   You might even get Nielsen to cough up their version once and for all, too.  After all, they’re in an existential crisis of their own.

If this sounds redundant and parochial to any of you who are regular readers (and thank you if you are), apologies.  Bluntly, the signs and the protests are starting to come off as that to me at this point.

No one is saying that writers and actors don’t deserve to be paid better and treated better.  I can’t express that sentiment any more clearly or passionately than that.

But so does everyone else in this hot mess of a non-season.  Those that don’t pay dues or supply lines. too.

Get your leadership to actually, for once, be more proactive in educating reporters, readers and the general public exactly WHY you deserve what you desire.  Wagmeister found a way to do that with management and voices that are continually being drowned out by the semi-rich and once-famous who have spent a good deal of the summer staging impromptu reunions of staffs from long-cancelled yet fondly remembered shows of the past.

You fought really, really hard to continue this.  At the expense of plenty of deserving people.  You won this battle,  I tip my hat.

Now go fight the damn war already.  And this time, use ammo, not attitude.

Until next time…


Leave a Comment