Can Talk Shows Continue During Hollywood Strikes Without Being Scabs? The Answers Are Tricky

Drew Barrymore’s decision to resume taping her talk show on Monday has kicked off a fight over whether she is violating the rules, or at least the spirit, of the Writers Guild of America strike.

On Sunday, WGA East said that the show is “struck” and that any writing on the show would be against the rules. But SAG-AFTRA, which is also on strike, issued its own statement on Monday defending Barrymore.

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“The Drew Barrymore Show is produced under the Network Television Code, which is a separate contract and is not struck,” a SAG-AFTRA spokesperson said. “It is permissible work and Drew’s role as host does not violate the current strike rules.”

Several other daytime talk shows have already been in production during the strike, including “The View” and “Live with Kelly and Mark.” “The View” employs two WGA writers, but it has been making shows without them since May. CBS, which produces “The Drew Barrymore Show,” said that her show will operate the same way — without its WGA writers.

“The Drew Barrymore Show will not be performing any writing work covered by the WGA strike,” said a CBS Media Ventures spokesperson.

But many writers believe that’s not possible.

“By going back on the air without her writers, Drew Barrymore is 100% ensuring that someone — either herself, one of her non-writing producers, or all of the above — will be doing the writing work that WGA writers normally do,” wrote David Slack, a former WGA board member, on Twitter.

He added that anyone who does writing work on the show is a scab.

Here’s a brief rundown of what is and isn’t allowed under WGA and SAG-AFTRA guidelines:

Aren’t Barrymore and other hosts such as Whoopi Goldberg members of SAG-AFTRA?

Yes, but they are working under a different agreement, called “Netcode,” which is still in effect and not under negotiation. But they still can’t talk about their film and TV projects on the air.

Do talk shows use union writers?

Talk shows do have writers, and the writers work under the same WGA agreement as film and TV writers. So unlike news shows, which are covered under a different WGA agreement, talk show and game show writers are on strike and not able to work until the strike is resolved. So anyone who provides literary material for a talk show, whether it’s the host, a producer, etc., would be in breach of WGA rules.

Who can be a guest on a talk show?

Basically, anyone who is not promoting a project – past, present or future – that they worked on under a struck guild agreement. Actress and singer Renée Rapp recently appeared on “The View” to promote her music. Many appearances will be from reality stars, pundits, documentary creators or journalists such as Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Jake Tapper. Comedian Jim Gaffigan was able to promote his comedy special “Dark Pale.”

Jake Gyllenhaal visited “Live With Kelly and Mark” to promote his children’s book, while Josh Gad talked about his Broadway role.

Has this kind of controversy happened before?

Yes. In 2007, Ellen DeGeneres kept her talk show going despite the WGA strike. At first, she went without an opening monologue, but then began doing it again, saying it was ad-libbed. The WGA blasted her decision, but AFTRA — which had not yet merged with the Screen Actors Guild — defended her, saying she was required under the no-strike clause in Netcode to keep hosting. DeGeneres said at the time that she supported the writers and felt “caught in the middle.”

Later on, Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno resumed their talk shows without their writers. The WGA issued a reminder that nobody was allowed to perform writing services on the shows.

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