Back to Work
Late-Night Lights Back On at NBC
'Tonight Show,' 'Late Night' resume Jan. 2
The network announced Monday that both "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" will return with new episodes on Wednesday, Jan. 2. Both shows have been dark since the writers' strike began in early November as Leno and O'Brien supported the Writers Guild of America (both are members of the union).
Both men also make it clear that they continue to support the WGA, but in statements they also express concern for the rest of their shows' staffs. O'Brien and Leno have been paying staff salaries for several weeks, but continuing that indefinitely wouldn't have been possible.
"I have been and continue to be an ardent supporter of the WGA and their cause," O'Brien says. "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. ... 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."
Leno sounds a similar note in his statement: "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."
Their return during a strike is not without precedent. As NBC notes in its own announcement, Johnny Carson kept "The Tonight Show" dark for two months during the 1988 writers' strike but returned in order to keep his staff from being laid off. The network chose its words carefully in trumpeting the resumption of the two shows.
"Both Jay and Conan have supported their writers during the first two months of this WGA strike and will continue to support them, says Rick Ludwin, NBC's executive vice president for late night and primetime series. "However, there are hundreds of people who will be able to return to work as a result of Jay's and Conan's decision" (180, by the count of the two hosts in their statements).
Whether the other network late-night hosts follow suit remains to be seen. David Letterman's company, Worldwide Pants, is reportedly interested in working out its own deal with the Writers Guild for both CBS late-night shows. Jimmy Kimmel's ABC show and both "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central remain dark. Carson Daly, who's not a WGA member, restarted his NBC show earlier this month.
Just what writerless versions of "The Tonight Show" and "Late Night" will look like is an open question, even to the hosts. "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 says. "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."