If you ask me, sometime after Sept. 11th Comedy Central's political writers, the ones who write for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, made a trade-off. At some point, they ceased to be traditional TV writers and became journalists, or at least political commentators. And as such, the weight of their rights as unionized writers became secondary to their responsibilities as citizen watchdogs. MSNBC and CNN's writers and researchers aren't on strike, nor, if they were unionized, would they during the election season. It's the greatest time to be in political media, the most crucial time to be informing (and entertaining the public) and, in the case of these two shows, there isn't much to gain. Comedy Central's already agreed to their demands.
And so, ten weeks have passed without Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. What happened in the meantime? Huckabee. The only presidential candidate to appear on The Colbert Report three times, the only candidate to have Chuck Norris round housing behind him. This is when we need the writers most. Who's going to point out the irony in statements like, "I’m the candidate of change! I’ve been working for change for 35 years!"
Both shows returned to the air last night, sans writers. Stewart only lightly touched on the presidential race and instead embarked on extended parody of the sheer absurdity of the strike, from the industry's ridiculous assumptions about the Internet to the writers' silly "speechless" advertisements. Cornell University professor of labor relations, Ron Seeber, appeared as the special guest and Stewart took him to task -- while picketers amassed outside -- for the union's seemingly arbitrary compromises with only certain programs. Stewart struggled admirably (and painfully) without his note cards, but all in all, it's no wonder he's been at home playing guitar hero.
Colbert, on the other hand, shined. After liberal amounts of self-deprecation, self-congratulation (for the 'Bert Bump for Huckabee) and self-elevation (Obama says in debates he'll meet with Iranian and Syrian leaders, but he won't come on Colbert's show during the strike), Colbert returned to his strength: the interview. Andrew Sullivan, author of the Atlantic Monthly's "Why Obama Matters" cover story, discussed the national optimism fueled by the Barack Obama victory, followed by labor author Richard Freeman, whom, yes, Colbert crushed.
Tonight, the two are back again in improv mode for the New Hampshire primaries. They won't be competing with Cartoon Network or the Sci Fi Channel, but MSNBC's Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann and CNN's Anderson Cooper and Larry King. So, come back writers: educate us, entertain us and keep the shows on the air.