THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART
11 p.m. Monday through Thursday
THE COLBERT REPORT
11:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday
The heart of "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report" is the timely wit and satire they bring to current events and, particularly, politics. It was assumed, therefore, that the two shows would be hurt more by the writers' strike than even the late-night talk shows. However, the first outings for both series indicated that, even with an empty writers' room, the jokes and humor were about as solid as ever.
Stewart will inevitably face the wrath of WGA members for crossing the picket line to bring "The Daily Show" back on the air. At the same time, he gave striking writers something to think about: Is it really anti-union to devote most of the show to arguing the union position?
Putting aside the impulse to catch viewers up on two months of politics, Stewart instead gave the lion's share of Monday night's program to arguing the logic of WGA demands and mocking the AMPTP stance. He explained sarcastically that writers were being denied even a portion of the $1.99 charged to download "The Daily Show" because the charge is not for content but for shipping and handling.
For good measure, during an interview with Cornell University labor professor Ron Seeber, Stewart practically pleaded with the WGA to make him, a non-practicing Jew, the same kind of deal it made with David Letterman. That pact allowed Letterman's writers to return. Not to make the deal may be anti-Semitism, Stewart suggested. "The whole reason I got into this business is because I thought we controlled it."
The clever lines, sight gags and flow of the program belied any notion that this was one long ad lib. Joked Stephen Colbert, in a tease that preceded "The Colbert Report," "I'm very alarmed at how prepared you seemed."
Colbert, whose TV persona is a conservative union-basher, suggested his return to the show was an act of consistency. However, he, too, alluded to the importance of his writers. "I don't need my writers," he said, "which brings me to tonight's word." At that point, the split screen was blank where the night's word normally would be.
Earlier, during an interview with Andrew Sullivan of "The Atlantic" magazine, Colbert chided Democratic candidate Barack Obama for being willing to talk with the leaders of Iran and Syria but refusing to be a guest on "The Colbert Report."
Not all candidates are following Obama's lead. Reportedly, Republican Mike Huckabee has been booked on Colbert's show for Wednesday. Stewart will alter the name of his show during the strike, turning "The Daily Show" into "A Daily Show." And Colbert, in solidarity with writers, will pronounce the last letter of his name. But the fact remains that both shows offered significant evidence that the contribution of their writers is at least slightly overrated.