Strike Force Five is a Meaningless Effort

Late night show moguls and rivals decided to join forces in limited podcast series, Strike Force Five, on Spotify to show their support and rally huge sums of money for their striking writers and non-writing staff amid the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. But I ask, to what end?

These ‘pre-recorded’ LIVE shows are built on jokes, puns, and intriguing questions with intelligently written scripts that are no less than a piece of art. The show hosts barely spend an hour or two to tape their ‘LIVE’ shows and go back to bed, ignoring the time and effort spent in marketing promos, scripts, and post-production, yet they tend to make multimillion dollars worth of income annually.

Now that the writers are on the picket lines, these CBS and NBC late night shows are forced to air reruns and the broadcasting companies are in shambles. As the pens go down, the placards go up. With over 11,500 writers in the guild, 98% decided to hit the streets against this massive wage difference.

Let me make it easier for you to understand, writers today are getting 23% less than 15 years ago when their wages were adjusted for inflation amid the 100-day WGA strike in 2007-08.

Strike Force Five is a Meaningless Effort

How Much Do These Late Night Show Hosts Make?

To better understand this wage difference, let me shed some light on the annual incomes of these show hosts and compare it with the average annual salary of a regular Joe. According to CNBC, Jimmy Fallon of The Tonight Show has a contract of $16 million with an average net worth of $60 million while  ABC’s  Jimmy Kimmel is right behind him with an annual salary of $15 million.

Considering the average income in California, which is estimated to be around $120,000, Kimmel alone makes 125 times more than the average local salary. Similarly, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, and  HBO’s John Oliver are not far behind these two Jimmys in terms of annual salary and net worth.

Now, amid Strike Force Five, isn’t it just so heartwarming to witness those wealthy individuals, who earn way more than the average person, graciously stepping down from their thrones to engage in podcast charity sessions with fellow late-night hosts?

It’s almost as if their benevolence knows no bounds! Yes, because we all know how crucial it is for Jimmy and his buddies to divert a tiny fraction of their extravagant wealth to their “struggling” workers, who are obviously living lavish lives themselves. What a sacrifice!

The Plight of Underpaid Writers

The numbers speak for themselves. According to the Writer’s Guild of America, the starting salary for a writer in the late-night arena clocks in at $4,198 per week. On an annual basis, this translates to a salary north of $200,000 (a recent survey by Variety takes it up to $300,000). While this may seem like a substantial figure, it barely scratches the surface of the wage disparities that persist within the industry.

Now, let’s pivot to the heart of the issue: the glaring wage chasm that separates late-night show hosts from their writing teams. In 2023, a similar Variety report revealed that the average late-night host enjoys an annual income exceeding $10 million. This staggering sum is more than 30 times greater than the average salary of a late-night show writer, which, as previously mentioned, floats around $300,000 annually.

The juxtaposition is undeniably jarring. While late-night show hosts bask in the spotlight, their writers toil behind the scenes, crafting the clever one-liners and hilarious skits that are essential to the success of the program. It is these writers who often remain unheralded heroes, yet their compensation tells a different story.

In the face of such a significant wage gap, the efforts of Strike Force Five to alleviate the suffering of these underpaid writers are well-intentioned. However, as we delve deeper into the complexities of the entertainment industry, it becomes clear that a short-term podcast series on Spotify is unlikely to be the panacea for this deeply ingrained issue.

The Irony of Strike Force Five

In the summer of 2023, the late-night glitterati, including Fallon, Kimmel, Colbert, Meyers, and Oliver, unveiled their grand plan to rescue their beleaguered writers from the clutches of underpayment: the Strike Force Five podcast. Yes, because nothing screams “solidarity” like a podcast that serves as a mere ripple in the vast ocean of wage inequality.

Strike Force Five, they say, is a weekly podcast extravaganza where the hosts delve into the fascinating world of writers’ strikes and the occasional musings on current events. It’s accessible on every podcast platform known to humankind, and the icing on the cake? Every single penny it earns goes straight into the writers’ strike fund.

By now you must be wondering, what is wrong with it? Well, this is what I am here to tell you. Strike Force Five, in simple words, is a short-term solution to a long-term problem that needs to be addressed in all its finality, once and for all.

Strike Force Five’s podcasting escapades will undoubtedly offer temporary relief to the struggling writers. Money raised will keep the lights on and the fridge stocked for some time. It’s like offering a lifeboat to a sailor stranded in the middle of the ocean. It’ll help for now, but the vast expanse of the wage gap remains unchanged.

Herein lies the conundrum: the root problem isn’t a lack of initiative on the part of the late-night hosts. It’s that the networks aren’t coughing up their fair share. Unless those bigwigs behind the cameras start seeing reason, we’re left with nothing more than a band-aid on a gaping wound.

Strike Force Five is a Meaningless Effort

Let’s ponder this for a moment: can a Spotify podcast series, albeit a well-intentioned one, really pull off the arduous task of closing the chasm between late-night hosts and their writers over the long haul? It’s doubtful.

Moreover, we must ask ourselves if this is the most effective means of filling the coffers for the striking writers. While the podcast may gain some attention, there are other avenues, direct donations, and larger-scale fundraising events, that could potentially yield more substantial results.

In Summation

In the grand theater of late-night entertainment, Strike Force Five’s podcast initiative to support striking writers, though well-intentioned, falls short of delivering meaningful change. While it may provide a temporary financial lifeline, it merely tinkers with the symptoms of a deeper issue.

The irony lies in the fact that these hosts, who owe their careers to the wit and wisdom of their writers, are attempting to bridge the gap with a Spotify podcast when the real battleground is the negotiating table with the big bad networks.

The industry’s long-term ailment demands more than fleeting distractions; it requires audacious solutions that fix this problem once and for all. To truly make a meaningful impact, it’s time for these late-night luminaries to step out from behind the microphone and take substantive action to rectify the systemic wage disparities that persist in the world of late-night entertainment.

Until then, Strike Force Five remains a well-intentioned but ultimately meaningless effort in the quest for justice for underpaid writers.

Joanne Wells

Joanne Wells is a media journalist for ScreenNearYou. She reports on the inside conversations in Hollywood. Also, she loves pizza!

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