Writers' strike: Will you ditch Colbert for YouTube?

What to do when your TV's on the blink.


Farhad Manjoo
November 6, 2007 2:35AM (UTC)

As the New York Times' David Carr points out, most viewers won't be much troubled by the entertainment writers' strike that began today. Scripted television dramas and comedies have already recorded enough episodes to ride out several weeks or even months of a strike, while reality shows and game shows -- including that TV behemoth "American Idol" -- will do just fine without any writers at all.

But if you like fake news, start praying for a quick resolution. Late-night shows that rely on jokes timed to the news -- Leno, Letterman, Stewart and Colbert -- can't do without writers. They'll all begin showing reruns tonight.

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Because the strike comes at the height of a political season dripping with comedic potential, it's risky both for studios and for writers, Carr notes. Where will viewers go to get their fake news instead? And wherever they go, will they come back to TV when writers and media firms have resolved their differences?

Writers last struck in 1988. Back then TV was the thing. There was no Web. Video games weren't nearly as attractive as they are today. And we didn't have a back catalog of millions of movies and TV shows available on DVD and through the Internet that we could watch instead. When writers came back after 22 weeks, people went back to watching TV.

But as TechCrunch's Duncan Riley points out, in many American homes today people use the Internet more than they watch TV. If the strike prompts folks to turn away from their TVs and to their computers, what Riley calls "online content creators" -- not just writers but game designers, programmers and other creative sorts who understand the potential of the Internet -- may find an even bigger audience for their efforts.

It seems highly unlikely that a better Jon Stewart's going to pop up on YouTube in the next couple of months; when "The Daily Show" comes back to TV, I'll be watching (but probably on the Web). Still, it is plausible that someone who can be the next Stewart or Stephen Colbert will see the strike as an opportunity to get at a public hungry for fake news and bloviation. If that person is you, start building your fake news set ASAP.

The strike also presents a chance to catch up on some great TV you may have missed while watching fake news. Tim Goodman, the San Francisco Chronicle's TV critic, calls Ken Burns' "The War" the best thing on TV this fall. If you've got it saved on your TiVo, watch it tonight instead of a "Daily Show" rerun.

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Here are some other Goodman suggestions on what to watch while writers are away: The original British version of "The Office," "Arrested Development," "Deadwood" and "The Wire," all of which reward close, careful viewing, which you've got time for now that you don't have to catch Stewart at 11.

Let me add something on that last one. We've got just over 60 days before Season 5 of the "The Wire" begins on HBO (taping's all wrapped up). In Season 1 to 4, 50 episodes have been recorded. Which means that if you watch one episode per day -- taking time off for the holidays -- you'll be able to catch up for the finale of the best thing on TV of all time, Jon Stewart included.

So why not start today?


Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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