Late-night TV shows return after monthslong writers strike

“We’re back, baby!” That was the message and the theme as late-night television returned to the airwaves Monday after a writers strike that shut down new shows for around five months.

Stephen Colbert featured a dolphin, Jimmy Fallon opened with a musical skit, and a despondent Jimmy Kimmel was on the couch with his therapist (Arnold Schwarzenegger, who reassured him, “You’ll be back”).

Without writers, late-night talk shows stopped airing new episodes after the strike began May 2.

On Tuesday, a three-year agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers was approved by the writers guild negotiating committee, the WGA West Board and the WGA East Council — meaning writers could go back to work.

“It feels good to be back,” Colbert told the live audience at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City.

“Check my math on this — I believe we have been off the air for 154 indictments,” he said, referring to former President Donald Trump’s legal troubles. “It was a crazy summer to be off.”

Colbert opened his show as a bearded captain on a boat in the ocean. When a squeaking dolphin informs him what he has missed — “Really, she’s dating Travis Kelce?” — he then rides it through the sea spray and to Broadway.

Stephen Colbert returns to The Late Show in New York City, on Oct. 2, 2023.Stephen Colbert returns to “The Late Show” in New York City on Monday.CBS

“We’re back!” said the website for “Jimmy Kimmel Live” before Monday’s program on ABC, which had Schwarzenegger on, as well as musical guest Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.

In the opening of his show, Kimmel lies on a couch talking to Schwarzenegger, saying, “This strike, it’s been going on so long, I just don’t know if I’ll be back.”

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“You’ll be back,” Schwarzenegger responds, recalling his famous line from “The Terminator.” Asked when, Schwarzenegger looks at his watch and says, “Now.”

Fallon of “The Tonight Show” said everyone in his world was excited to see late-night hosts return.

“Today my dad called me up and said, ‘Finally I can watch Kimmel again,’” Fallon joked.  

(“The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and NBC News are entities of NBCUniversal.)

Actors remain on strike. The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or SAG-AFTRA, went on strike July 14, around two months after the writers.

The two sides plan to resume bargaining Wednesday, the union said in a statement Monday.

Phil Helsel

Phil Helsel is a reporter for NBC News.

Dennis Romero

Dennis Romero is a breaking news reporter for NBC News Digital.