Comedy Central bringing back latenight shows

“Truthiness” is coming back to latenight, albeit without writers.

Comedy Central confirmed Thursday that its latenight skeins “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” will return to the air on Jan. 7, two months after going dark on the day the Writers Guild of America strike against the major studios and nets began Nov. 5.

“Daily Show” and “Colbert” will resume production a week after the skedded return of NBC’s Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien, CBS’ David Letterman and Craig Ferguson and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel. Their shows will also proceed without writers, unless Letterman’s Worldwide Pants banner succeeds in securing an interim agreement with the guild to allow scribes for his and Ferguson’s show to return to work (Daily Variety, Dec. 17).

But the prospect of working without writers is a much trickier proposition for “Daily Show” and “Colbert” — both Stewart and Colbert are WGA members — than it is for the other latenighters, because their formats are so script- and monologue-driven. Colbert plays a Bill O’Reilly-esque character who rails against headlines and topical issues (“Truthiness” is the character’s coinage for handling factual inconsistencies in his positions) in satirical bits that are generally tightly scripted.

“We would like to return to work with our writers. If we cannot, we would like to express our ambivalence, but without our writers we are unable to express something as nuanced as ambivalence,” Stewart and Colbert said in a joint statement issued Thursday afternoon.

Return of both hosts comes right as the presidential primary season kicks off; how much fun the hosts can poke at the proceedings will likely be a source of much debate.

In a statement, the WGA’s west coast arm took Comedy Central to task for “forcing” the hosts back in their chairs.

“Comedy Central forcing Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert back on the air will not give the viewers the quality shows they’ve come to expect,” the WGAW said. “The only way to get the writing staffs back on the job is for the AMPTP companies to come back to the table prepared to negotiate a fair deal with the Writers Guild.”

According to insiders, trademark features like Stewart’s “Headlines” and Colbert’s “The Word” will obviously have to take a break since they’re heavily scripted.

Instead, it appears the shows will try to work around the missing writers (and the guild rules that bar anything that’s traditionally the domain of scribes) by relying heavily on pretaped segments from the field.

In many of those cases, the segments are produced and edited by non-WGA members. That would still seemingly prevent correspondents who are WGA members from participating, but it’s believed that some of the show’s contributors are with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, rather than the WGA. (In addition, “The Daily Show” has occasionally run pieces by individuals who are not regular contributors.)

Shows could also conceivably rerun old, pre-strike pieces. Episodes would then be rounded out by interviews — which perhaps would be stretched out through additional commercial breaks; two guests, or perhaps a guest and a musical performance, might not be out of the question either.

Nonetheless, “The Daily Show” and “Colbert Report” won’t look like their normal selves upon return.

“We continue to hold out hope for a swift resolution to the current stalemate that will enable the shows to be complete again,” Comedy Central said in a statement.

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