It’s been almost two months since the Writers Guild of America went on strike, and in that time the primary source of criticism of the presidential candidates — late night shows like CBS’s The Late Show with David Letterman, NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report — have been in reruns. Sure, the criticism is largely superficial, but then the criticism by “real” TV news outlets isn’t particularly deep. And the fact that there hasn’t been an agreement reached is all to the good for people interested in maintaining the status quo.
Even without the widely-seen but mostly blunt ribbing of Leno or the stiletto-punch of a Colbert gag aimed at a much smaller audience, the fortunes of the anointed in both the Republican and Democratic races have been mercurial. Mike Huckabee has been coming out of nowhere (can’t we just say no more Arkansas governors for president for a while?) and even Zombie John McCain’s showing signs of life as he reaches for the brains of Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. A couple of months ago Hillary Clinton was viewed by many as unstoppable, but Barack Obama and John Edwards are still fighting her for turf. The whole battle’s going down without the snarky comments of the late night talk shows, though.
But then, if you had a vested interest in how things were going to come out in the 2008 elections, and you had a way to, you know, keep a sort of a throttle on the process to at least try to keep things under some semblance of control, what would you do? Sure, it might cost you some big-time money, but what if all of your competitors would be in the same boat?
As it stands, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report will be returning — sans writers unless a miracle happens — on 7 January. Letterman, Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, and Conan O’Brien will be back on the air even earlier — 2 January — in any case.
But that’s left nearly two months of some of the craziest material from the primary campaigns untouched by late-night shows in the run-up to the 3 January Iowa caucuses — the night after the broadcast shows return [Letterman and the WGA reached an agreement 28 December] — and the New Hampshire primary on 8 January — the night after Stewart and Colbert are back. If the strike continues for another month, the huge blocks of delegates at stake in the “Super Tuesday” primaries on 5 February will de be dealt out without the guiding hand of comedy writers.
That may seem like no big loss to many people, but we’re living in a world where our fellow voters took someone like George W. Bush as a serious candidate, even with people pointing out he was a buffoon. Sure, I don’t agree with all of their politics, and sometimes they simply propogate stupid jokes (Letterman, for one, did Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton gags a couple times a week until at least last year). I, for one, worry what could happen without a little of the funhouse mirror late night shows bring into the house of politics, and I wonder if someone might have their hand on the lid in an attempt to keep things from boiling over in a way they might not prefer.