And now the writers want a bigger slice of that uncertain pie. TV execs say there is no extra money around; writers say there should be -- or will be someday. So we have a strike. Scripted shows will last through the holidays, but the late-night talk shows, which rely on riffs on current events, are shut down. That means no Leno, no Letterman, no Stewart and no Colbert. Ouch!
So you can't laugh about the sad state of the world, but you can engage it. Over on ABC, Nightline is fresh every night. And since Ted Koppel left, it's become more tabloid. Recently, Martin Bashir interviewed that Girls Gone Wild guy, who's now in prison. Of course it offered a great chance to show girls going wild, which means lifting their tops and having a black bar appear across their chests. But when the wildfires were raging outside San Diego, Nightline was riveting.
If late-night TV really is your treatment for insomnia, check out Charlie Rose on PBS, who is mostly new every night. Despite his plodding, dull style, he's better than Jay Leno or Larry King at the lost art of interviewing.
If you're really missing The Colbert Report, you can switch over to Fox News for the nightly replay of The O'Reilly Factor. (In case you're the last one to get the joke, Colbert's show is one long, elaborate spoof on Bill O'Reilly.) The O'Reilly Factor can be funny, but only if you're really, really drunk.
Let's face it, news is a bummer: If you want to escape it, switch over to Nickelodeon, where they've programmed back-to-back episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Ahh, the '90s, when the two Americas (Philly, Bel Air) were bridged by a laugh track.
But really, people, this is pathetic. Will we watch just anything? It's time to stage your own strike against bad TV. Desperate times call for desperate measures: Buy a good book and read before you go to sleep.
Here are three late-night shows that are still airing new episodes you can lean on until the writers' strike ends.
The black drama about cosmetic surgeons seems even darker after the news that Kayne West's mom died from a plastic procedure. In this episode, Rosie O'Donnell -- a semi-regular from Season One -- is back. (FX, 10 and 11 pm, Tuesday, 11/20)
The Real Housewives of Orange County
OK, this is a reality show, so no writers are needed. And really, who could make this stuff up? People this annoying defy the imagination. So finish Thanksgiving by weighing the pluses and minuses, along with Jeana and Kara, of posing nude for Playboy in a mother-daughter pictorial. Classy! (Bravo, 11 pm, Thursday, 11/22)
Days of Our Lives
If you really want to wallow in the lack of options, try a soap opera, and Days of Our Lives is as bad as any. Most important, the SOAP network replays the show every weeknight at 11 pm. And rumor has it that there are enough storylines in the can to take Days through the end of the year. (SOAP, 11 pm, weeknights)