Carson Daly was just named a new host for the Today Show. The news brought back to mind my encounter with him about five years. At the time, in January, 2008, it was during the Writers Guild Strike against the studios and networks in the AMPTP. Carson Daly had been the first TV host to cross the picket line and he became a lightning rod of anger for Guild members. The article below goes into more detail about that, and the reasons that caused his actions. But what happened by pure chance is that I ran into him when covering the Consumer Electronics Show -- and was wearing my WGA On Strike t-shirt at the time.
This was the Huffington Post article I wrote about the encounter. As you'll see, as divisive as the issue was, I came away with a reasonably positive reaction, though I also came to the encounter with a less-visceral reaction than some. What I found particularly fascinated in revisiting the article, though, was reading the comments at the end from readers, most of whom were WGA members. If you're interested in seeing those responses from a perspective of five years, you can check them out here,
WGA Srike Primer: Crossing Paths with Carson Daly
Wandering the Consumer Electronics Show circus brings many surprises. That's largely its point, but the surprises are usually technological. This one was otherwise. And a well-known Hollywood strike story turned out to be very different.
The night before the show officially opened, I went to an event of vendors. One company there had a celebrity promoting its product - it was Carson Daly.
To anyone in the Writers Guild, a hot button has just been pushed. Not long ago, Daly became arguably the WGA's Most Hated Person Not in the AMPTP. He was the first late-night TV host who crossed the picket line, and talked about having people call his answering machine to provide jokes. His car was hounded by striking writers each day he tried to enter the studio, and his name taken in vain almost more than that of Nick Counter, the AMPTP negotiator.
I must note that my own perspective is different from the outrage. I greatly wish he hadn't crossed the picket line, but think he got a raw deal. Others may understandably disagree, though as the story later came out, he was told by his network bosses he'd be fired if he didn't do the show. Carson Daly is not in the Writers Guild of America, and it's not anyone's place to lose his job over another union. While picketing the show and network was absolutely appropriate, the outraged focus on Daly is another matter. After all, Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are today doing the exact same thing -- their shows are rightly-picketed, but the Guild makes clear they're picketing the networks, not the individuals. That wasn't the case with Carson Daly, whose name still can bring a twitch to many a Writers Guild member. He had the bad fortune to be first.
And so there was Carson Daly, five feet away. It isn't often one is presented with such an opportunity. Keep in mind that I was wearing my WGA On Strike t-shirt, something which had the likely potential of blaring out like a warning beacon. I walked over -- and with my best attempt at a charmingly whimsical voice, said, "I just want to let you know that I'm not here to picket you." Looking up in surprise, his initial imperceptible twitch turned into relief.
To be clear, despite my larger-issue feelings, I had no intention of 'absolving' him. I began, "I really wish you hadn't done what you did" -- but before I could say anything else, he interrupted me and said, with a look of sadness covering his face, "I do, too."
We spoke for a few minutes, and it was clear from our conversation that he felt absolutely horrible about the whole situation, not a hint of bravado or anger at the protests, no "in your face" petulance towards me and my On Strike shirt, just profound disappointment by it all. And he said that the whole controversy over his answering machine was blown far out of proportion. "It was just meant to be a bit," he said quietly, "just a bit," not that he was actually soliciting material.
I don't have the words to describe his expression when I mentioned my personal thought that he'd gotten a raw deal. It wasn't relief, or gratitude, or a weight being lifted off his shoulders, but sort of a combination of all that and other things swirling around. He kept repeating, "Thank you," as if so pleased just to have someone from the Writers Guild actually listening to him. Even if it was only some guy he didn't know from Adam who had cornered him.
And as I prepared to leave, he ended by saying, "I wish this strike was over."
This isn't to debate whether he got a raw deal or not. That's just my opinion that he did. I've only wanted to make clear that he wasn't blasting writers for making his life hell or holding a grudge, and that he came across as deeply sad by it all. And there were no cameras on him, no handlers, it wasn't posturing for an audience. Just the two of us talking quietly, alone. I repeated a few times, "I wish you hadn't done what you did," and not once did he get upset or ever try to even contradict me. He never snapped back, "Yeah, yeah, I know, you said that, I get it." He just talked. Reasonably, sensibly, fairly, quietly, feeling terrible. And listening just as politely.
It was very impressive.
As has been mentioned elsewhere, strikes are full of victims -- those striking, those out of work with nothing to gain, and even those on top, and it's often easy to lose track when dealing with one's own very real problems. A strike paints everything with wide brush strokes of general issues, and we usually lose sight of the details, the personal. But anyone can get caught between forces not of their doing. When one side intentionally creates conditions that force a strike and then twice callously walks away from resolving it, there's much collateral damage.
And sometimes, all anyone wants is a chance for another person to listen to them. And to express their own hurt. And regret.
Whatever happens next, that's a face at the heart of this strike. It's a face of countless people hurt by all the wide range of damage that could have, should have been resolved early. It's the face of any strike.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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