Drew Barrymore made the controversial decision to bring back her talk show amid the writer’s strike, then doubled down amid backlash and finally changed her mind, all in the span of a week.
Barrymore announced the return of "The Drew Barrymore Show" on Sept. 10, then announced the decision had been reversed on Sept. 17. In between, Barrymore issued a tearful video statement apologizing but standing by her choice to return. The video was taken down hours later.
"She was getting blowback for announcing her decision to bring the show back, then for doubling down on her decision, and now she's getting blowback for backpedaling and saying, 'I was wrong,'" PR professional Beth Booker, founder of Gracie PR, tells TODAY.com.
The Writer's Guild of America (WGA) has been on strike since May. SAG-AFTRA went on strike in July, resulting in a near total shutdown of production.
Barrymore's show employs writers covered by the WGA contract, meaning by coming back, those writers would have to cross a picket line. “The @DrewBarrymoreTV Show is a WGA covered, struck show that is planning to return without its writers,” the WGA East wrote on X, the platform previously known as Twitter. “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 strike rules.”
The saga shows the effect of public opinion on celebrity decision-making, Booker says.
"With social media as big as it is, that's where we live all day. That's where we consume our news and see other people's opinions. I think the public backlash on this, everyone's opinion of her shifting, is probably what gave her the push (to reverse the decision)," Booker says.
TODAY.com has reached out to Barrymore and CBS for comment.
Understanding Drew Barrymore’s brand and how it affected public opinion
Barrymore’s personal brand is at the heart of the controversy, Booker says. People were surprised not only by the show's return — but because she delivered the news.
"Her brand is an empathetic, caring personality. She's been very open about what she's gone through personally in her life," Booker says.
The granddaughter of famed director John Barrymore, Drew Barrymore grew up in show business, appearing in "E.T." at the age of 7. She went through a wild child phase in the spotlight, then became a screen presence sparkling with vulnerability and charm.
Now in her 40s, Barrymore used her reputation as a "warm, open person," per Booker, as the basis for a well-received talk show that launched in 2020.
"She's someone you feel you can open up to. Her whole show is based on that vibe," Booker says.
Molly McPherson, author of the book “Indestructible: Reclaim Control and Respond with Confidence in a Media Crisis,” also said she was surprised by Barrymore's initial announcement, given her brand. "There is nothing in Drew Barrymore's DNA that would lead us to believe she would do this ... cross a picket line," she said in a video posted to social media.
Further confusion was added by the fact that Barrymore had taken a stand in favor of the strikes earlier this year by stepping down as the host of the 2023 MTV Movie & TV Awards.
“I have listened to the writers, and in order to truly respect them, I will pivot from hosting the MTV Movie & TV Awards live in solidarity with the strike,” the actor and talk show host said in a statement to NBC News. “Everything we celebrate and honor about movies and television is born out of their creation.
When she announced her talk show was resuming production, Barrymore, in turn, was dropped as the co-host of the 2023 National Book Awards.
Barrymore said it was her choice to return. But whose decision was it?
Booker noted that throughout Barrymore's statements, she expresses the notion that the return was her idea.
In her initial Sept. 10 post, Barrymore wrote that she "owned" the choice to return.
“I own this choice,” Barrymore wrote on Instagram in a since-deleted post. In the apology video, transcribed by The Wrap before its deletion, Barrymore opens by emphasizing this controversial decision was hers.
“I believe there is nothing I can do or say in this moment to make it OK. I wanted to own a decision so that it wasn’t a PR-protected situation, and I would just take full responsibility for my actions," she says.
She later repeated the phrase "accepting my responsibility," and further emphasized that nobody had put her up to this.
"My decision to go back to the show, I didn’t want to hide behind people, so I won’t, and 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."
Booker says Barrymore doubling down is part of why it feels "odd," since the decision "doesn't feel true to her personally" (or her brand).
Given the nature of television production, it's likely this wasn't her choice alone.
"There had to have been a bigger decision that just her deciding to do that. The station, advertisers, contract obligations. You can't look at a show like this as a singular entity. There's no way that she alone was making those decisions."
Further, Barrymore's wasn't the only CBS show slated to return. CBS' "The Talk" and "The Jennifer Hudson Show" were both announced to come back, per Deadline. Their returns were delayed after Barrymore announced hers would remain delayed.
Booker says this may explain Barrymore's tears in the video. "I think she genuinely just felt really horrible. Based on the fact that she's reiterated so many, this is my decision, this is my decision ... was it?"
McPherson said it appears Barrymore is “trying to convince herself that it’s OK" in the video.
The problem with Barrymore’s video? It was an explanation
While she apologizes multiple times, Barrymore's video was more of an explanation than an apology, Booker says.
“For it to be a genuine apology that she would like, she would have to do what she decided to do: Delay the show," Booker says.
Instead of that, Barrymore offered an explanation as to why the show was returning despite backlash.
“There’s a huge question of the why. Why am I doing this? ... I wanted to do this because as I said this is bigger than me, and there are other peoples’ jobs on the line," she said.
Barrymore then drew a comparison between the upheaval in the entertainment industry when her show launched and the upheaval in the entertainment industry today.
"Since launching live in a pandemic, I just wanted to make a show that was there for people in sensitive times. And I weighed the scales and I thought, ‘If we could go on during a global pandemic and everything the world has experienced through 2020, why would this sideline us?’ So I want to just put one foot in front of the other and make a show that’s there for people, regardless of anything else that’s happening in the world, because that’s when I think we all need something that wants to be there being very realistic in very realistic times. So that is my why.”
"She ties it into the pandemic, which is not the same thing as a strike," Booker says. "The show isn't needed in the same sense in feeling connected to the outside world."
Booker says Barrymore's "why" messaging was muddled and demonstrates "why people need publicity," even if Barrymore was deliberately shirking publicity in the video.
"PR is there to get your message across the finish line. Otherwise it ends up all over the place. And then the rest of us are sitting here watching this when she keeps saying that she wants to share her why and all of us are still like, OK, but why?"
McPherson suspects her decision may have been motivated by something she didn't say in the video, like a business deal.
“She’s such an empathetic, caring person, I can’t think of any reason why she’d fall on such a sharp sword,” McPherson said in the video.
What this can teach us about effective apologies
Barrymore finally changed her mind on Sept. 17, releasing a statement on Instagram.
“I have listened to everyone and I am making the decision to pause the show’s premiere until the strike is over,” Barrymore wrote. “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. We really tried to find out way forward. And I truly hope for a resolution for the entire industry very soon.”
Booker says this is the apology that disappointed fans hoped for from Barrymore's video. She calls it a "really solid response."
"It checked all the boxes when it comes to a solid apology. She didn't make it about herself. She made it about her team and anyone who she has hurt, and the industry. She explained that she took time to listen to feedback.
"She's listening to her fans. She made a decision. It's OK to change your mind," she says.
This has a PR lesson for Booker. "The main thing I took away from the video is that a real, genuine changed behavior is an apology," she says, and nothing else.