Bearded Letterman returns with union-backed jokes

Wed Jan 2, 2008 9:29pm EST
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By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Late-night TV comedian David Letterman on Wednesday kicked off the return of his show from a two-month hiatus in support of striking screenwriters, boasting his was the "only show on the air" with union-backed jokes.

Letterman walked onstage in the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City through a chorus line of dancers holding signs that read, "Writers Guild of America on Strike," and sporting a full beard he grew during his eight-week break.

"Ladies and gentlemen, two long months, but by God, I'm finally out of rehab," he told the audience, joking that he had become introspective in the process. "Here's what I learned about myself -- show or no show I really enjoy drinking in the morning."

Portions of the show were screened for reporters several hours before it was due to be broadcast on CBS.

Letterman's arch rival, Jay Leno of NBC, and other late-night stars also resumed production of fresh broadcasts for the first time since film and TV writers launched their strike against major studios on November 5.

But Letterman, who has lagged behind Leno in the ratings since 1995, has a chance to gain the upper hand as he ventures back with his writing team, and the blessing of the WGA, under a special deal between the union and his production company.

That agreement, announced last week, enabled Letterman to return with a full complement of monologue jokes and comedy bits, including his famed Top 10 List, a nightly gag that presents multiple punch lines to a single joke topic.

"Ladies and gentlemen the only show on the air now that has jokes written by union writers," Letterman declared. "I know you're thinking to yourselves at home -- 'This crap is written?"'   Continued...

<p>Actor Robin Williams (L) appears on "The Late Show with David Letterman" on the CBS Television Network in New York January 2, 2008. The January 2 episode is the first original show taping since the start of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike. REUTERS/John Paul Filo/CBS &copy;2008 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved</p>