Late night talkers return with hands tied; more picketing


NBC’s Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel returned to the airwaves last night, and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert come back to Comedy Central 1/7.

David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants production company reach its own deal with writers to bring his show’s writers back onboard for his return last night (see related story).

All of the hosts, sans NBC’s Carson Daly are also members of the WGA, making them subject to union rules that severely limit their performances and comedy. They can’t write or perform any material that would normally be written for them. For example, Jay Leno couldn’t perform a monologue, because his writers normally write his jokes. The skits that are a part of several late-night shows would also be off-limits without writers. Comic ad-libbing, musical performances and lengthier appearances by guests willing to cross picket lines are the most likely solution.

"I think that people will see some interesting television," Chris Albers, former president of WGA East and a comedy writer for O’Brien told the AP. "Obviously, these are some of the funniest people in the country so they’re probably going to do a very good job. It’s just a different animal than what they’re used to and what we’re used to."

"I don’t know what they’re going to do," said Mike Sweeney, head writer for O’Brien’s NBC show told the AP. "My obvious speculation would be more guests, and maybe talk to them more slowly."
Stewart and Stephen Colbert would appear to have the toughest time reconfiguring their programs, which have a large amount of scripted material. By a strict interpretation of the guild’s rules, a member would be prohibited from performing as a character if union writers normally write material for the character. Colbert performs his entire show in the character of a blowhard political commentator.

The WGA also began picketing yesterday outside the TV studios of each of the late-night shows that went back on air last night, except for the Late Show with David Letterman and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, because of the separate deal with WGA and Worldwide Pants (see related story).

TVBR observation: Their hands are tied, but it could be interesting. Remember, these hosts didn’t get where they are because they relied on writers their whole careers. The shows, while they’ll be different, could be a throwback to the early days of late-night television when there was more improvisation. The guests—and there will have to be more of them—will also be encouraged to be more entertaining and zany than ever. We’ll have to see how this “pans” out.