Late Night TV Remains the Canary in the Coalmine for Hollywood Writers' Strike
Just as it was the first area of showbiz to feel the sting of the writers strike, late night TV is the first to present a substantive response to the long-term work stoppage, with David Letterman seeking to cut an individual deal for his Late Show and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson as Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien have agreed to come back to new episodes without writers on Jan. 2.
Letterman's people say the host, who has been paying assorted salary and production expenses for both shows out of his own pocket for weeks, now must act to stop the bleeding and get back to work -- hopefully without violating the strike. Leno and O'Brien, both of whom don't own their shows (though they have also been shelling out some dough to pay staffers) emphasized the need to keep their production staffers at work while trying to show support for the WGA.
As usual, it's Leno who may wind up looking the worst here. First, he fed press accounts that he was going to force NBC to use guest hosts by refusing to appear during the strike; then he seemed to resist paying his staffers once NBC planned to lay them off, relenting only when press about other hosts' generosity made him look bad; now he's admitting that he's going back to work without writers, while Letterman spends much more money and effort trying to avoid that scenario.
Here's the official releases from Leno and Conan O'Brien
STATEMENT FROM JAY LENO REGARDING THE JANUARY 2 RETURN OF "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO"
"This has been a very difficult six weeks for everybody affected by the writers strike. I was, like most people, hoping for a quick resolution when this began. I remained positive during the talks and while they were still at the table discussing a solution "The Tonight Show" remained dark in support of our writing staff. 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. We fully support our writers and I think they understand my decision."
"The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" is from Big Dog Productions in association with Universal Media Studios. Debbie Vickers is the executive producer.
"For the past seven weeks of the writers' strike, I have been and continue to be an ardent supporter of the WGA and their cause. My career in television started as a WGA member and my subsequent career as a performer has only been possible because of the creativity and integrity of my writing staff. Since the strike began, I have stayed off the air in support of the striking writers while, at the same time, doing everything I could to take care of the 80 non-writing staff members on Late Night.
Unfortunately, now with the New Year upon us, I am 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 fourteen years, to lose their jobs. If my show were entirely scripted I would have no choice. But the truth is that shows like mine are hybrids, with both written and non-written content. An unwritten version of Late Night, though not desirable, is possible – and no one has to be fired.
So, it is only after a great deal of thought that I have decided to go back on the air on January 2nd. I will make clear, on the program, my support for the writers and I'll do the best version of Late Night I can under the circumstances. Of course, my show will not be as good. In fact, in moments it may very well be terrible. My sincerest hope is that all of my writers are back soon, working under a contract that provides them everything they deserve."