Tuned In

What Are Writers Doing on The Daily Show?

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Last night, on The A Daily Show, John Oliver filed Our Dead Planet, this brilliant, and seemingly news-pegged report on the imperiled Earth:

That John Oliver! He’s hilarious! He’s ingenious! He’s… um.. he’s on strike, isn’t he? In fact, Oliver is not only a striking writer but has been one of the most high-profile presences on the WGA picket lines here in New York. And is it just me, or does that look remarkably like a bit of scripted television?

It’s not just me, and I checked in with Comedy Central, who said that the piece was shot October 30, and The Daily Show has other pre-strike pieces in the can that may air as well. As for the other appearances on Daily Show this week, by Oliver, Aasif Mandvi and Rob Riggle, the network says that they’re “playing by the rules,” i.e., not actually writing the lines that they deliver.

I’ll leave it to the WGA and other interested parties to hash out what exactly the rules constitute–they may figure they have bigger fish to fry with Jay Leno. (The union first ignored his monologue, then publicly criticized it, and now seems to have decided that a public fight with him is not good p.r.) What is writing, anyway? Ah, what a philosophical exercise the strike has turned out to be!

In any case, it’s good to see Oliver and company again, be it in the can, unscripted or by whatever other means. But it’s also a little weird.

[Update: As jared notes in the comments, Oliver said in a standup bit Tuesday that as a green-card worker, he’s legally forbidden to strike. But–as you could see in the green-screen background, in which Oliver was shown picketing–that hasn’t kept him from picketing as a WGA striker. I won’t attempt to parse the potato-potahto-ness of that distinction any more than the WGA arcana as to what constitutes “writing.”]