Leno and O'Brien to Cross Picket Lines

Posted on December 17, 2007

Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien have announced that they will reluctantly return to the airwaves in January, but without their comedy writers.
NBC announced this morning that late-night hosts Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien would return to the air Jan. 2 with new episodes even if the writers strike was not resolved, citing a similar move by Johnny Carson during the 1988 labor stoppage.

"During the 1988 writers strike, Johnny Carson reluctantly returned to The Tonight Show' without his writers after two months," Rick Ludwin, NBC's executive vice president for late-night and prime-time series, said in a statement released by the network. "Both Jay and Conan have supported their writers during the first two months of this WGA strike and will continue to support them. However, there are hundreds of people who will be able to return to work as a result of Jay's and Conan's decision."

But unlike Carson, Leno and O'Brien are members of the Writers Guild of America. That means they will be crossing their own union's picket line when they go back on the air, unless the walkout is settled in the next two weeks. In a statement, O'Brien called himself an "ardent supporter" of the writers guild but said he was "left with a difficult decision: either go back to work and keep my staff employed or stay dark and allow 80 people, many of whom have worked for me for 14 years, to lose their jobs."

Leno said he had hoped for a quick resolution to the strike. "Now that the talks have broken down and there are no further negotiations scheduled, I feel it's my responsibility to get my 100 non-writing staff, which were laid off, back to work," he said in a statement. "We fully support our writers and I think they understand my decision."
Under the WGA rules, Leno and O'Brien aren't allowed to write items for the show that would normally have been written by their writing staffs. So what does that mean? Will Leno and O'Brien wing it? Ad lib a monologue? We have no idea. And as for Dave Letterman, there has been no word on whether the proposed side deal with the WGA has been finalized.

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