Drew Barrymore tried to live, laugh, scab her way across the picket line. It didn’t work.

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Drew Barrymore without makeup, in a casual sweatshirt, filming her apology video from home.
Drew Barrymore’s (now-deleted) apology video. | via Instagram

After much hand-wringing, America’s talk show sweetheart is sorry she tried to violate the writers’ strike.

After facing widespread disgust over her decision to bring back her show in the midst of an entertainment industry writers’ strike, Drew Barrymore will keep The Drew Barrymore Show off the air indefinitely. Well, at least until the strike ends.

A week ago, America’s talk show sweetheart was at the center of the biggest flare-up (so far) of the four-month, ongoing Hollywood writers’ strike. On September 10, Barrymore announced on social media that her show was coming back, despite being struck by the Writers Guild of America.

That did not go over well.

After facing a WGA picket and a mountain of criticism online, Barrymore issued an apology six days later for hurting feelings, but said the show would still continue, specifying that this was her decision.

“I know there is just nothing I can do that will make this okay to those that it is not okay with. I fully accept that. I fully understand that,” she said in a now-deleted video.

That went over even worse.

The backlash — not only from writers and guild members on strike, but from fans — was vociferous. Barrymore was charged with being out of touch and disloyal. That’s a sharp turn for Barrymore, who has spent the last year or so lauded for being one of the kindest and nurturing people on television. The Drew Barrymore we know from TV is not the same person who would violate the strike.

This past Sunday, after weathering a storm of criticism, Barrymore announced that she would respect the strike and stand in solidarity with her writers.

“I am making the decision to pause the show’s premiere until the strike is over,” Barrymore wrote on Instagram. “I have no words to express my deepest apologies to anyone I have hurt and, of course, to our incredible team who works on the show and has made it what it is today.”

With support for unions at the highest it’s been in 58 years, and the public being more cognizant of numbers like Disney CEO Bob Iger’s salary, Barrymore’s scabbing was never going to go over well. But the backlash was huge, especially when compared to similarly struck shows (and hosts) that have or were scheduled to return, like The View. It got to the point where the National Book Awards dropped Barrymore as its host.

Was everyone aware that Drew Barrymore was going to host the National Book Awards? Did you know people feel this deeply about Drew Barrymore?

Talk show host Drew Barrymore during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on Thursday, April 27, 2023.
Rosalind O’Connor/NBC via Getty Images
Both these talk show hosts have had better months.

On the surface, the backlash against Barrymore is about the ongoing Hollywood strikes. So was the relief that most experienced when she announced she was going to finally respect her writers. But the strong feelings people have toward Barrymore have deeper roots: They’re a reflection of people’s expectations, what it means to be a “scab” in 2023 Hollywood, and just how effective Barrymore has been at being who we think she is supposed to be.

Drew Barrymore crossed the picket line and walked it back

Earlier this month, CBS and Barrymore announced that the show would return on September 18. In a now-deleted Instagram post, Barrymore initially said that coming to the decision to cross the picket line transcended herself.

“Our show was built for sensitive times and has only functioned through what the real world is going through in real time,” Barrymore posted on the social media platform, stating that she was “making the choice to come back for the first time in this strike for our show, that may have my name on it but this is bigger than just me.”

It is clear that Barrymore’s somewhat confusing statement was not written by guild writers. It seems that Barrymore was trying to say that the decision to resume shooting was taken seriously, and that there are a tremendous number of people working on the show who would be affected by its hiatus. Theoretically, the show without writers would include more improv and less structured segments.

Barrymore added, “I own this choice. We are in compliance with not discussing or promoting film and television that is struck of any kind.”

Despite the language (“compliance”) that makes it seem like The Drew Barrymore Show was following the Writers Guild of America’s rules, the guild pointed out that same day that the program “is a WGA covered, struck show that is planning to return without its writers.” The Writers Guild said that it would begin picketing the show that week (the week of September 11) and added, “The Guild has, and will continue to, picket struck shows that are in production during the strike. Any writing on The Drew Barrymore Show is in violation of WGA rules.”

Barrymore’s word salad statement and the WGA’s clear reply whipped up negative responses to Barrymore’s decision to return her show to the air. Prominent writers and guild members pointed out that Barrymore, who is a multi-generation nepo baby and Hollywood star, could cover her staff’s expenses and stand in solidarity with the writers’ strike. Others suggested that Barrymore and the show’s team were trying to obfuscate some very obvious scabbing with some tricky wording. There was also chatter about how this was an about-face for Barrymore, who had previously stepped down as the host of the MTV Movie Awards in May as an act of solidarity with writers.

In response to Barrymore’s decision, the National Book Foundation said she would no longer host the National Book Awards on November 15. “The National Book Awards is an evening dedicated to celebrating the power of literature, and the incomparable contributions of writers to our culture,” the organization wrote in a statement. “In light of the announcement that The Drew Barrymore Show will resume production, the National Book Foundation has rescinded Ms. Barrymore’s invitation to host the 74th National Book Awards Ceremony.”

Members of the WGA-EAST and SAG-AFTRA walk and carry picket signs outside of The Drew Barrymore Show as audience members arrive ahead of the show at CBS Broadcast Center on September 12, 2023, in New York City.
Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images
The picket line last week in front of The Drew Barrymore Show.

Facing mounting criticism, Barrymore — barefaced with hair undone, not unlike Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis in their own recent mea culpa video — posted an apology video on Instagram stating that she was sorry for the hurt she had caused, but was going to own the decision to continue the show.

“I didn’t want to hide behind people. So I won’t. I won’t polish this with bells and whistles and publicists and corporate rhetoric. I’ll just stand out there and accept and be responsible,” Barrymore said in the video. She added, “This is bigger than me. And there are other people’s jobs on the line.”

That Barrymore has since deleted the apology video speaks to how ineffective it was at quelling the backlash. By saying that she heard people’s valid complaints about inequity and treating writers fairly, and then telling people that she was going to push the show through regardless, Barrymore threw gasoline on an open flame. The chorus about her scabbing, not standing up for workers’ rights, and betraying the writers that work for her grew even louder — so loud that it’s now very difficult to find the video on the internet.

On Sunday night, September 17, one week after Barrymore announced her show would begin shooting, the host posted on social media that she had reconsidered and would be pushing back her show’s return.

“I have listened to everyone, and I am making the decision to pause the show’s premiere until the strike is over,” she wrote, apologizing to her team. “We really tried to find our way forward. And I truly hope for a resolution for the entire industry very soon.”

As of this week, it’s the only message about the strike that appears on Barrymore’s Instagram that hasn’t been deleted.

Why it’s worse for Drew Barrymore

While the general public’s reaction to Barrymore’s initial decision to bring back her show was something like the digital equivalent of rotten tomato-throwing, hers wasn’t the only show crossing the picket line. The View is continuing without WGA writers, and shortly after the Barrymore announcement, sentient smirk Bill Maher said he was also going to break the strike and get back to work (Maher, seemingly following all of Barrymore’s moves, on Monday announced that he would instead honor the strike and postpone his show). Non-WGA talk shows like Live with Kelly and Mark and Sherri have also resumed shooting.

None of those shows got the pushback or scrutiny that Barrymore got. To be fair, none of those shows employed Barrymore’s ornate live-laugh-scab strategy of trying to soften and sentimentalize the decision to break the strike. They just went back to work.

That raises the question of why there was so much throat-clearing by the movie star and gets at the real issue: that Drew Barrymore has built an extremely successful brand for herself and central to that brand is her being a very good person. Her talk show and the way she speaks to her guests, many of whom are her famous acquaintances, is crucial to that.

Over the course of her show, Barrymore has developed a no-bullshit, extremely human way of interviewing her celebrity guests.

You can see it when she talks to Machine Gun Kelly about anxiety, vulnerability, and mental health. It’s there when she speaks to Brooke Shields about their complicated relationships with their mothers and growing up. And it happens again in Barrymore’s interview with Melanie Lynskey and her husband Jason Ritter, who spoke about his alcoholism and how it affected their relationship.

Drew Barrymore in a chair on the set of SiriusXM’s The Howard Stern Show.
Noam Galai/Getty Images for SiriusXM
Drew Barrymore’s daytime TV show has been compared to therapy (positively).

What makes Barrymore so good in these moments isn’t just that she has the ability to make her guests feel comfortable, extends genuine empathy, and guides conversation gracefully, it’s that Barrymore also isn’t afraid to acknowledge her own vulnerability — whether it be substance abuse or her rough childhood. She implicitly asks us to see her as a person who is also working to be better every day.

Each episode you tune into, the more you get a sense that this talk show is part of Drew’s self-improvement, that it’s something she loves to do, and it brings her immense joy.

Because Barrymore’s talk show has done such a good job of showing how good Barrymore is, it makes it harder to square with the act of crossing a picket line. This person who extends radical empathy in every moment of her life can’t seem to do the same for writers, who are grossly underpaid and undervalued? Something doesn’t compute. Barrymore’s image might be the reason why we didn’t get the full picture behind the scenes.

What’s gone unspoken in the back and forth about the show is that Barrymore is under contractual obligations to produce episodes of her show. That is the nature of syndicated TV.

“Hosts like Barrymore are under contract with major media production companies to perform their hosting duties, and like any regular job, they eventually have to show up to work,” Variety reported, explaining that local stations are paying licensing fees to carry The Drew Barrymore Show and daytime talk shows like it. “Syndicated talk shows are typically required to deliver 35 to 40 weeks of new episodes to their station partners. If they don’t, they can lose their show.”

Therein is the problem for Drew Barrymore and a couple of other daytime television hosts that preceded her: There’s a gulf between the image of Drew Barrymore as a good person and the business of making The Drew Barrymore Show.

People want to root for a good person, especially when they’re famous. The success of Barrymore’s show is evidence of that. However, when a celebrity’s supposed goodness is the business (see: DeGeneres, Ellen), it sets a difficult expectation — one that is often revealed to be a lie. Good business decisions and good moral decisions are rarely going to be one and the same.

It seems, though, that Barrymore has found herself a way out of this seemingly no-win situation.

In the wake of Barrymore’s apology and promise to stand in solidarity with her writers, critics are now lauding Barrymore for recognizing her mistake and doing the right thing. She’s being praised for apologizing and setting an example. If you can’t always be good, I guess, the next best thing you can do is be sorry and be Drew Barrymore.

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