Why Drew Barrymore and Bill Maher are facing writer backlash

The two hosts have drawn the ire of the Writers Guild of America

Drew Barrymore
Drew Barrymore is bringing back her show, and the writers guild isn't happy
(Image credit: Michael Loccisano / Getty Images for The Drew Barrymore Show)

Drew Barrymore's status as one of America's most beloved talk show hosts may be in jeopardy. Barrymore is facing major backlash for bringing back her show amid the actors and writers strikes, and Bill Maher has just made a similar decision. So are these hosts scabbing, or are they simply looking out for the rest of their crew?  

What's going on with Drew Barrymore's and Bill Maher's shows?

Drew Barrymore recently announced her daytime talk show will begin airing new episodes again, even though the actors and writers guilds both remain on strike. “I own this choice,” she said. Her show, which wrapped production of its previous season prior to the labor stoppages, will return on Sept. 18. 

Days later, Bill Maher revealed his HBO show “Real Time” is also returning. “I love my writers, I am one of them, but I’m not prepared to lose an entire year and see so many below-the-line people suffer so much,” the comedian posted on X, formerly Twitter. “Real Time” will return on Sept. 22. Maher previously said he believes some of the writers’ demands are “kooky."

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Will the shows have writers when they return?

Because the Writers Guild of America has been on strike since May, Maher said that when “Real Time” returns, it will be “sans writers or writing.” His show will not feature its typical written segments, such as a monologue, but it will emphasize its “off-the-cuff panel discussion.” A CBS Media Ventures spokesperson also told CNN that “The Drew Barrymore Show” will “not be performing any writing work covered by the WGA strike.” 

How does the actors strike factor into this?

Although Barrymore is also an actor, the return of her show hasn’t faced similar criticism from SAG-AFTRA, which has been on strike since July. A spokesperson for the union noted to The Hollywood Reporter that her show is produced under a separate Network Television Code contract, so her “role as host does not violate the current strike rules.” Barrymore said she’ll remain “in compliance with not discussing or promoting film and television that is struck of any kind.”

What has the reaction been?

The Writers Guild of America slammed Barrymore’s decision, saying it “has, and will continue to, picket struck shows that are in production during the strike” and noting that any writing done on the show would be “in violation of WGA strike rules.” The WGA also called Maher’s decision “disappointing,” stressing that as a WGA member himself, the comedian “is obligated to follow the strike rules and not perform any writing services.” But the guild argued it’s “difficult to imagine how” his show can go on “without a violation of WGA strike rules.” 

Author Stephen King, meanwhile, reacted to Maher’s news by arguing that “this is exactly how strikes are broken.” Cristina Kinon, co-head writer of “The Drew Barrymore Show,” told The Daily Beast that shows returning without their writers “will prolong the strike,” while co-head writer Chelsea White told Rolling Stone that “when any production that is covered under WGA comes back during a strike it undermines our whole group effort to come to a fair contract with the AMPTP.” WGA captain Chris Hazzard similarly told The Hollywood Reporter, “Bringing a show back without your writers is an attempt to devalue our labor and devalue the work that we do. And there’s no way to make a show without writing.” 

Writers have subsequently picketed outside of Barrymore’s show, and two college students alleged to Deadline they were kicked out of a taping because they were wearing WGA strike buttons. A show spokesperson cited “heightened security concerns” but said Barrymore was “completely unaware of the incident,” and the audience members would be offered new tickets. Barrymore was also dropped as host of the National Book Awards due to the controversy. 

Are any other talk shows returning?

“The Jennifer Hudson Show” and “The Talk” will also soon be returning, according to Variety, and The Hollywood Reporter reported that other shows appeared to be “following the lead” of Barrymore. “The View” has also remained on the air, drawing criticism from writers. “We’re still writing things on cards,” host Whoopi Goldberg noted

But Maher is the only one of the major late-night hosts who has set a return amid the strike. Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers and John Oliver have yet to come back on air, but they recently joined forces to launch a podcast, “Strike Force Five.” Proceeds from the show benefit their staff. 

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Brendan Morrow

Brendan is a staff writer at The Week. A graduate of Hofstra University with a degree in journalism, he also writes about horror films for Bloody Disgusting and has previously contributed to The Cheat Sheet, Heavy, WhatCulture, and more. He lives in New York City surrounded by Star Wars posters.