"The Drew Barrymore Show" will begin airing fresh episodes on Monday but a lot of off-air controversy will be clinging to its typically bubbly host.
Barrymore — a daughter of a proud acting dynasty — is making new batches of her syndicated talk show despite picketers outside her studio, as daytime TV becomes the latest battlefield in the ongoing Hollywood labor strife.
"We're four months approximately into this strike and it's not surprising that there are defectors," said Michael H. LeRoy, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "I couldn't predict that this would happen on daytime TV, but everybody has a breaking point in a labor dispute."
"The Drew Barrymore Show," operating without its three union writers, isn't the only daytime show to resume. "The View" has returned for its 27th season on ABC, while "Tamron Hall" and "Live With Kelly and Ryan" — neither are governed by writers guild rules — have also been producing fresh episodes. "The Jennifer Hudson Show" and "The Talk" are also restarting Monday.
As long as the hosts and guests don't discuss or promote work covered by television, theatrical or streaming contracts, they're not technically breaking the strike. That's because talk shows are covered under a separate contract — the so-called Network Code — from the one actors and writers are striking. The Network Code also covers reality TV, sports, morning news shows, soap operas and game shows.
"I know there is just nothing I can do that will make this OK to those that it is not OK with. I fully accept that," Barrymore said in a video posted Friday on Instagram that was later deleted. "I just want everyone to know my intentions have never been in a place to upset or hurt anymore. It's not who I am."
The ongoing strike pits 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.
The return of daytime hosts, producers and studio crews will make for some awkward exchanges, predicted Zayd Ayers Dohrn, a 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 to go back to work with their own writers picketing outside the doors of the studios," said Dohrn, a writers guild member. "They're literally walking past the picket line of the workers who they say they're supporting."
Barrymore's decision to return to the air was met with pushback on social media. "You have the heart and mind to be more tapped into the needs of the community than this," wrote one viewer on Instagram. Another was more blunt: "You don't get to play a generous and relatable character when it's financially expedient for you and then scab when your pocketbook is at risk."
Actor and activist Alyssa Milano, whose friendship with Barrymore stretches back years, also criticized the return, calling it "not a great move."
"I love her very much — I grew up with her — but I'm not sure that this was the right move for the strike. I'm sure in her eyes it's the right move for her and the show, but as far as the WGA and SAG and union strong — not a great move."
Barrymore's stance was also met with some puzzlement since she walked away as host of the MTV Movie & TV Awards in May, the first big awards show to air during the strike. Back then, she wrote: "I have listened to the writers, and in order to truly respect them, I will pivot from hosting the MTV Movie & TV Awards live in solidarity with the strike."
She has since lost another hosting gig: the National Book Awards in November. The organization rescinded her invitation "in light of the announcement that 'The Drew Barrymore Show' will resume production."
LeRoy, who has studied labor-employer struggles for 30 years, warned that TV shows like Barrymore's may think they can get by without using union writers but may find long-term costs.
"No members of the Writers Guild will ever work with that show again," he said. "It's a short-term, feel-good moment or get-by moment for Drew Barrymore and maybe the others, but long term they really have, in my view, basically given themselves an early retirement."
He noted other strikes in the past that left bitter feelings for decades, like when Major League Baseball umpires went on strike in 1999. New umpires were hired and integrated with veteran ones but tensions continued.
"For the next 25 years, those umpires would not talk to each other if they were assigned to work games together," LeRoy said. "Twenty-five years of shunning. People do not forget it."
Viewers who tune into new episodes of daytime talk shows these days will find a changed landscape. Guests aren't always the A-listers with blockbuster TV shows or films to promote. Since the strike began, authors, musicians and comedians are filling the gaps.
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 debut novel. Matthew McConaughey was on "The View" to promote his book "Just Because."
Hosts like Barrymore may be caught in a lose-lose situation — contractually obligated to return to work but certain to anger colleagues when they do. Last week she noted "This is bigger than just me."
Bill Maher, who also announced he would return to his late night talk show, couched his reasoning as wanting to help all his staff, saying writers "are not the only people with issues, problems, and concerns."
Dohrn isn't buying it: "They talk about wanting to support the people who are just getting by. But Bill Maher and Drew Barrymore and the hosts of 'The View' are not just getting by. They could very easily stand with their fellow workers in the industry and say, 'We're not going to feed the studio pipeline until they make a fair offer,'" he said.
"They're deciding for a whole host of complicated reasons to go back to work and to ultimately try to break the strike."
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