Liveblogging the return of “The Daily Show”


8 p.m. — Yay! Jon Stewart, back on my TV. There’s… wait, what’s that growth between his eyes?

Dailyshow_001 8:01 — “There’s a writer’s strike going on. The other late night shows came back, Letterman, Conan. Obviously made a statement of their histute solidarity. I too have a sign of solidarity, a writer’s strike unibrow.” (Cheers from audience) “It’s taken me two months to grow it in, but I’m hoping this is the statement of solidarity that catches on — the writers strike equivalent of the AIDS ribbon.” Yay, Jon Stewart back on my TV! (Left, the strike unibrow.)

Dailyshow_0028:02 — Stewart notes that “The Daily Show” is the funny, insightful show he does with writers. For now, the host says, they’ll instead be doing “A Daily Show” (right).

8:02 — OK, so far, so good, two minutes in, and Jon hasn’t had to rely on any real writing yet. Only 28 minutes to go!

8:03 — Toughest part for Stewart: With all the news going on, and no platform to tweak it all. For example, Stewart points to video of GOP hopeful Mike Huckabee in Iowa, with Chuck Norris standing behind him.

No joke — literally, Stewart doesn’t have one. And thankfully, doesn’t need one, since the ridiculousness of that speaks for itself.

Dailyshow_003_2But then, Stewart does pull out a visual chuckle: Was that Steven Seagal at Chris Dodd’s concession speech last week? (By the way, does this also mean that the staffers who cull through hours and hours of video at “The Daily Show” are still working? If so, that would seem to help Stewart’s cause — he may not be able to script laughs, but so many of the real-life clips “The Daily Show” team finds are absurd in their own right, and don’t even need a punch line.)

8:03 — Obama and Huckabee, unlikely Iowa winners? Stewart called it back on “The Daily Show’s” final show on Nov. 1 (cut to Stewart, still live in the studio, but in a TV monitor graphic: “Uh, the Iowa caucus will go to the Black guy and the guy who doesn’t believe in evolution. See you in January under uncomfortable circumstances!”) Funny bit.

8:04 — Back to the writer’s strike. “With the strike going on, we’ve had to settle for this kind of fare” (cut to “American Gladiators” clip).

“Here’s what interesting about the new ‘American Gladiators’: It doesn’t look like they hired new Gladiators, they just unfroze the old ones.”

Hmm, was that really ad-libbed? Clearly, with a clip of “Gladiators” there, that joke had to have been planned. Did that violate WGA rules? Will Stewart join Jay Leno in the in-trouble-with-the-WGA category? Will it matter?

8:04 — First NAMBLA reference of the year! Stewart’s favorite aside whenever explaining an acronym. In this case, the “Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or NAMBLA.”

“That joke is grandfathered in,” Stewart grins.

8:06 — Jon tries to explain the studios’ position: Episodes of “The Daily Show” on iTunes cost $1.99; why shouldn’t writers get a piece of that? “That’s not a content charge. That’s a shipping and handling charge. Should the writers be paid for shipping and handling?”

8:07 — First bleep of the year!

8:08 — “Promotional Cheese.”

8:09 — Tongue-in-cheek continues. Should writers be paid for (the Internet)? “Well, you may be asking yourself, why did Viacom sue YouTube? They sued YouTube for a $1 billion — clearly a figure they pulled out of their asses. If there was real money on the Internet, wouldn’t they have gone after a real figure?”

8:10 — Where is he going with all of this? Anyone? Does he know? Guess this segment was not written after all.

8:11 — If the strike goes on until February, those out-of-shape, tubby writers will turn into (cut to Schwarzenegger in “Conan the Barbarian”) unstoppable machines.

8:11 — Stewart mentions those SAG “Speechless” videos. Cut to Sean Penn. “Ohmigod, you got Sean Penn to advocate your cause! You must have a cause!”

8:12 — “Ugly Betty” cast’s “Speechless” video. “That was a little somber for a writer’s strike. Wait, I think I know what that was actually for” (cut to the cast, but with the tagline “silence = death; stop AIDS”).

Yikes. Second AIDS reference of the night? Tap, tap, tap, is this thing on?

8:13 — Jon’s not happy. “This is a dire situation, but let’s have a little perspective here. Somewhere between the idea of arguing for minimum wage and jobs that pay thousands of dollars and have residuals, perhaps we’ve lost perspective on the fact that, at heart, this is really a math problem. And last time that all these talk shows were off the air for any length of time was after September 11th. And that time, most shows were off the air for a week. So if my math is correct, the writers strike is now nine times worse than September 11th.” (Nervous chuckles from the audience, then a few smatterings of applause.)

8:13 — Jon cuts to commercial, and he seems to have a nervous shake as he turns. Looks like he knows he probably just lost a few fans in the WGA.

8:15 — “Daily Show’s” first guest back: Ron Seeber, professor of labor relations at Cornell. Wow — other talk shows mentioned the strike; the “Daily Show” has a professor of labor relations to discuss the entire politics of strikes. Um, yay?

8:16 — Seeber notes that he was barraged with emails urging him not to appear on the show, that it would hurt the WGA’s cause. “Do they feel that by you appearing, this opens the door to all other professors?” Stewart quips.

8:17 — “There’s a lot of rhetoric about social justice. Is it about social justice, or it this a math strike?” Stewart asks.

“It’s both. The justice part is getting fair share of return for the intellectual property… they’re trying to get ahead of the technology curve,” Seeber says.

8:18 — OK, this may be an interesting coversation to those of us covering the strike, or anyone in Hollywood affected by it… and there are definitely viewers across the country who are interested because their viewing habits have been hit. But I’m guessing even Stewart’s most educated viewers are lurching for the remote at this point.

8:19 — “Daily Show” guests rarely get two breaks, unless it’s someone like Al Gore. But with no writers, there’s plenty of time to kill.. so we’ll be right back with more from Ron Seeber!

8:23 — How’s this for irony: A promo for Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” website, which includes clips of every story the show has ever done. Go and reminisce about back when the show had writers!

8:24 — Seeber explains why the congloms all negotiate together: It’s more efficient for everyone involved. The auto manufacturers don’t do it, but they do negotiate one right after another, and usually come up with similar deals.

8:25 — Question from Stewart about the WGA’s interim deals — and a not-so-veiled reference to “The Daily Show’s inability to get one, compared to CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman.” (Of course, the difference: Letterman owns “Late Show,” Stewart doesn’t own “Daily Show.”)

Stewart: “Is that a smart strategy? And are they being arbitrary with it, maybe perhaps denying some shows who would willingly do it… (cheers and laughs from the audience). Are they being arbitrary? Wouldn’t you want to get as many shows? Let’s say you’re not as big — let’s say you’re on basic cable. But you’ll do it and you’ve gotten your company to say ‘OK,’ even though they clearly think you’re insane. Why would you turn something like that down?”

8:26 — Stewart’s still milking it. “Would you consider it anti-Semitism?” he quips. “Let’s say there was a host who worked in late night and believed that Jesus was the son of Gid. And let’s say there’s another guy, perfectly good guy, maybe ont he smaller side, who’s a non-practicing Jew. Honestly, the whole reason why I got into this business is I thought we controlled it. Now, it seems clear…”

8:27 — Some hope: “Eventually these all get solved,” Seeber said. “Do most negotiations end with a hug?” Stewart jokes. Looks like Seeber’s rolling his eyes.

Dailyshow_005 8:29 — Checking in with Stephen Colbert and “The Colbert Report.” Best strike beard yet (right)!

Har! Has Stephen been reading the blogs? “Jon, I watched some of your show tonight, and I gotta tell you, I’m very alarmed by how prepared you seemed. I will be making a phone call to the Writers Guild Peoples Council for the Preservation of the Written Word. This will not go unnoted, sir!”

“Please don’t turn me in!”

“Hold on, I’ve just got to put this away.” (Colbert sets down the shredder at his desk, which he’d been using to cut up scripts. It grabs his ‘strike beard’ and yanks it off.)

8:30 — Moment of Zen: Strikers outside “The Daily Show” studios.

–Michael Schneider