Last week, Viacom's late night hosts, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, were back on air, producing their first shows since the writers strike began Nov. 5 and putting to the test whether writers are necessary.
For Stewart, his first night out solo was devoted to the strike itself. In a show of solidarity, he explained that "The Daily Show" was a program he did with his writers, and while they were on strike, he'd be producing what he's calling "A Daily Show." One of Colbert's nods to the writers his first night was to pronounce the T's at the end of "Colbert Report" instead of employing his usual affected pronunciation of "Colber Repor."
Stewart's answer to David Letterman's and Conan O'Brien's strike beards was a strike-solidarity unibrow, fashioned from some fluff stuck atop his nose. Colbert opted for a ZZ Top-inspired strike beard that seemed to engulf most of his upper torso. It also seemed to reflect Colbert's more committed approach to maintaining the absurdity of his show. Stewart made it clear he was unhappy with the circumstances that have forced him to do his show without his writers, stepping out of his usual role of skewering the absurd by taking shots at Viacom and the Writers Guild of America and throwing some petulant questions at his guest, Cornell University labor professor Robert Seeger.
Colbert opted to stay firmly in character, opening his show with the absurd "Tonight! Then! Plus! Hey! This is the Colbert Report." Then he noticed a problem, asking his producers why the teleprompter had no words, and when he was told it was because the writers were on strike, he explained how he believed teleprompters worked. "This magic box reads my thoughts and then lays them out on the screen for me to read. It's a labor-saving device." Later, after a series of clips that showed his long history of anti-union bias, he declared he doesn't need writers and introduced regular segment "The Word." But, of course, there was no "Word," since there were no writers to write one. Colbert, even without his writers, has absorbed what every good writer knows: It's better to show us than to tell us.