As expected, NBC announced Monday morning that The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Night with Conan O'Brien will return to the air without writers Wednesday, Jan. 2.
The shows have been in repeats since the Writers Guild of America strike began Nov. 5.
No guests have been announced as of yet. Bookings may be a challenge , with many actors expected to refuse to cross the picket line and appear on the shows.
Tonight Show executive producer Debbie Vickers said she feels like more potential guests “are warming to the idea. January feels better than December did.”
Late Night executive producer Jeff Ross admitted that the NBC shows probably won’t be coming back on an even playing field if the CBS shows are able to return to the air with writers and, thus, no conflict for actors to cross the picket line.
“We may not be [coming back to an even playing field], and we’ll just have to deal with it,” Ross added.
Ross and Vickers said they are just now beginning to explore options for formats in the absence of writers, including adding more guests. Both shows will most likely still feature opening monologues.
NBC late-night chief Rick Ludwin also ensured that all of the nonwriting staffers will be paid between now and the time the shows return to the air. The hosts had been paying their staffers on differing levels.
Ludwin added that he fully expects his hosts to take comedic shots at the network when they return. But Ross said that is nothing new. “We’ve been taking shots at NBC for years,” he added.
Ludwin also hopes the hosts will not come under fire from the WGA for their decision. “It’s a little unfair to suggest that late-night talk-show hosts can’t come back and talk,” he added.
Both hosts released statements justifying their decisions.
“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,” Leno said. “Now that the talks have broken down and there are no further negotiations scheduled, I feel that it's my responsibility to get my 100 nonwriting staff, which were laid off, back to work. We fully support our writers and I think they understand my decision."
“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,” O’Brien said. “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."
The WGA said it expects its members who are also show hosts to stick to strike guidelines that don't prevent them from performing but do prevent them from "performing any writing services during a strike for any and all struck companies." That means no writing their own monologues, jokes, or any other writing that would be customarily done by striking writers.
For full coverage of the strike, click here.
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