I was a little late getting to the return of "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" because I was lingering over the OSU-LSU game, anticipating an Ohio State comeback that never came. (How do you squander a 10-0 lead? Penalties, penalties, penalties.) But I did have the recorder going and was checking out the fake news once it was clear that the sporting news would be bad. And so some notes, after the jump ...
I mentioned in the Golden Globes post the possibility of an ongoing strike turning people against the writers, and Stewart/Colbert gave me more reason to think that way. Stewart's sympathies obviously lie with his writers, and he rechristened "The Daily Show" as "A Daily Show" because it's not the same without his scribes. But he can sympathize with the writers while feeling handcuffed by the union. (Nikki Finke reports that he complained about the guild before taping began.) I think he felt some of that frustration on the air, especially as he struggled during the opening segments of the show.
Not that he wasn't funny. But the show wasn't as crisp as when scripted, with Stewart's delivery clearly hampered by his trying to think of laughs as he went along. He was better in the interview portion of the show (and I loved the line attributed to Sumner Redstone), but even there he had strike problems. The serious labor-relations expert who served as his only guest just didn't know how to play with Stewart, no matter how hard Jon tried. But celebrities were being kept away by picketers and union pressure.
Colbert was much, much funnier. While he joked that Stewart seemed suspiciously well prepared (a conversation that poked at the disconnect in the Writers Guild demand that writer-performers not write for themselves), it was clear that the better-paced Colbert had done plenty of preparation of his own -- even if some of that preparation involved dredging up old clips.
Of course, since he plays the right-wing blowhard, Colbert is better position to make fun of the writers strike and unions generally. And he did so from jump, with the shredding of a "script" at the beginning of the show. And I wonder if people will remember that when it came time for "the word," the writerless Colbert didn't have one -- or they will focus more on the bearded Colbert shredding that script.