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Drew Barrymore's talk show return is a misfire of her empathy

Crossing the WGA's picket line to resume filming her daytime talk show isn't exactly on-brand for Barrymore.

UPDATE (Sept. 17, 2023, 10:21 a.m. ET): Drew Barrymore announced on Sunday that she's pausing her daytime talk show until the Writers Guild of America strike ends. She faced backlash after announcing last week that her show would return despite the strike.

It’s been over 130 days since the Writers Guild of America went on strike in demand of a fair contract. Since then, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or SAG-AFTRA, has also walked away from talks with the major production studios. There’s been no real movement toward a solution — but that isn’t stopping Drew Barrymore from resuming production on her eponymous daytime talk show.

The decision to resume filming without writers on Monday, which Barrymore confirmed on Instagram on Sunday, feels especially disappointing coming from her. In the three years that Barrymore has been hosting her show, she’s demonstrated intense levels of empathy with guests and audience members alike. At best, the choice to produce new episodes is a misfiring of that empathy. At worst, it is a deep misreading of what it means to show solidarity with the striking workers.

The WGA unsurprisingly is not exactly pleased with Barrymore resuming production.

As of Monday, Barrymore has not detailed the reasons for her decision beyond her Instagram statement, in which she says she is “making the choice to come for the first time in this strike for our show, that may have my name on it but this is bigger than just me.” From that framing, it sounds like a major factor may be related to ensuring that the rest of the production staff on the show is able to work while the strike is ongoing.

Concern for the show's nonwriting staff may be well placed. The recalcitrance of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP, is strong enough that some studios are taking hundreds of millions of dollars in losses rather than paying the relatively small cost to meet the guilds’ demands. That stubbornness was best summed up in a blind quote from a studio executive to Deadline that the plan is to “allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their house.” (The AMPTP represents the likes of Disney, Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Paramount, Warner Bros. Discovery, and NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News and MSNBC.)

Things haven’t gotten quite that bad for most members yet, though, and polling shows the majority of Americans support the strikers over the studios. Backlash to the studios’ ham-fisted attempts to demonize the guilds has been so intense that they hired a new crisis public relations team to try to undo the damage.

But that doesn’t mean that things are easy for the people not collecting paychecks during this process. SAG-AFTRA and the WGA East and West have strike funds that are able to provide financial support in the form of loans or grants to members out on the picket lines. The Entertainment Community Fund is also available to provide emergency assistance to members of production guilds who are unable to work during the strike. But the fund has noted on its website that it is currently only able to provide one grant to each applicant facing dire need for basic living expenses, with no guarantee that a second round will become available.

Other daytime TV shows have managed to stay on-air since the strike began as they’re largely unscripted. In employing guild writers Barrymore’s show was an exception — but the show’s new season will apparently move forward without them. The WGA unsurprisingly is not exactly pleased with Barrymore resuming production. A guild spokesperson told Vulture that “anyone providing writing services for 'The Drew Barrymore Show' is in violation of strike rules,” and added that the guild “will be monitoring the show.”

It’s honestly not clear that Barrymore, despite growing up in Hollywood, understands the full weight of her actions.

And while Barrymore has pledged to not promote film and TV projects that are covered under SAG-AFTRA’s strike rules, that doesn’t change the fact that she is crossing the WGA’s picket line. Adding to the awkwardness of the choice, Barrymore is due to host the National Book Awards in November. As author Colson Whitehead put it on X, formerly Twitter, on Monday: “Guys — I found the perfect person to host this year’s celebration of writers!”

Beyond that, it’s hard to determine how well Barrymore’s show — which has several scripted bits including monologues — will work without writers. During the last writer’s strike in 2008, then-host of NBC’s “Late Night,” Conan O’Brien, managed to fill dead-air with improvised bits and riffing with the house band and production staff. At one point, O’Brien attempted to break the world-record for longest spin of a wedding ring — he failed miserably, but it became a recurring segment and served as a testament to his comedic genius. Whether Barrymore, for all her dynamo energy and willingness to be weird on camera, can match that feat is hard to judge.

Going back to her Instagram statement, it’s honestly not clear that Barrymore, despite growing up in Hollywood, understands the full weight of her actions. “I want to be there to provide what writers do so well, which is a way to bring us together or help us make sense of the human experience,” she wrote. “I hope for a resolve for everyone as soon as possible. We have navigated difficult times since we first came on air. And so I take a step forward to start season 4 once again with an astute humility.”

That’s a nice sentiment — but it still sounds like she wants to do the work that writers normally would be doing. It’s all well and good to say that “I own this choice,” as she has, and that the show will “not be performing any writing work covered by the WGA strike,” as a CBS Media Ventures spokesperson told Variety. She may even think that filming new episodes is showing solidarity with her staff. But it betrays the thousands of others who are trying to get a fair contract that protects their industry moving forward into the future.