American television's most popular political satirists, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, will return to the air in the new year despite the Hollywood writers' strike, raising the prospect of some much-needed levity to carry voters and pundits through the presidential primary season.
Their nightly programmes – Stewart's Daily Show and The Colbert Report – attract a huge following for their ability to skewer the absurdities of both America's politicians and the media pack who cover them. It remains to be seen just how biting they can be without their scripted intros and spoof news coverage – the assumption is that they will consist mainly of interview segments until the writers' stoppage comes to an end.
"We would like to return to work with our writers," the pair said in a statement. "If we cannot, we would like to express our ambivalence, but without our writers we are unable to express something as nuanced as ambivalence."
The pair will be back on 7 January, too late for the Iowa caucus, which takes place four days earlier, but in time for the rest of primary season. In their absence, the internet has buzzed with spoof campaign ads and other amateur efforts at satire, but nothing has replaced their unique ability to start a national conversation about the absurdity of the day.
Stewart's Daily Show has been essential viewing since the dawn of the Bush administration and has won multiple awards – both for comedy and for journalism, because it often shows up the inconsistencies and bald-faced lies uttered by politicians and their spokesmen that mainstream networks don't dare touch.
Colbert, meanwhile, plays the part of an egocentric, right-wing blowhard blissfully unaware of just how big an idiot he is.
They are not the first late-night hosts to decide to return to work – writers or no writers. Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien will be back on NBC, and Jimmy Kimmel will return to ABC on 2 January. David Letterman is negotiating his own strike settlement with the Writers Guild through his independent production company.
All of them will have difficulty landing even interview guests. Many politicians and entertainment celebrities have said they won't cross Writers Guild picket lines. The strike shows no signs of a quick resolution following the collapse of the latest round of talks last week.