‘Barrymore backlash’: Talk show hosts postpone their returns

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Zeke Reed

Drew Barrymore arrives for the Time Magazine 100 gala celebrating its list of the 100 Most Influential People in the world in New York City, New York, U.S., April 26, 2023. Photo by REUTERS/Andrew Kelly.

Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Hudson, Bill Maher, and the hosts of “The Talk” are delaying further production of their shows’ new seasons. As the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes continue, talk shows have become new canaries in the coal mine for a growing divide within Hollywood’s labor ranks.

Matt Belloni, founding partner of the website Puck News and a regular contributor to KCRW’s The Business, says one reason for Maher’s decision is that studios and the Writers Guild are now talking and could reach a deal in a few weeks. “He's doing a cost-benefit analysis, and is it worth becoming a strike villain if he can just wait a little bit, and he can go back just like everyone else?” 

The second reason Belloni offers: Public pressure is different now. “The social media aspect of the guild's effort here, where everyone gangs up on these people that have been determined to be scabs or strike villains, it really does add an extra element of pressure. … And I think that's adding to the leverage that the Writers Guild has in these negotiations.”

In Barrymore’s case, Belloni explains that under guild rules, she’s allowed to return to TV if she doesn’t use WGA writers. Plus she’s getting around SAG-AFTRA’s rules by not allowing guests to promote theatrical work. 

Barrymore’s incentive to get the show back on the air is clear. At the end of the day, Belloni notes, it’s all a business. That means if Barrymore doesn’t provide new episodes, stations could choose to stop carrying her show. Barrymore also contends that she has below-the-line employees who need to pay their bills.

Share with KCRW: What don’t people know about being on strike?

Other talk shows that don’t rely on WGA writers, such as “The View,” are starting to return. That puts WGA shows at a disadvantage — potential viewers could switch to their competitors. 

“It's a tough situation for these shows because you have to balance the solidarity with the union, [and] with these employees of yours that are probably in your ear saying, ‘Please come back. We have to buy our basic needs.”

Belloni adds, “I know many, many people who are impacted by these strikes who are very upset by the fact that they can't come to a deal. And there's blame to go around on both sides. … We're now more than four months into this strike. It's getting tougher and tougher for people to soldier that pain.”