Striking writers cry foul over "Tonight Show" jokes

Thu Jan 3, 2008 9:55pm EST
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The union for striking Hollywood writers cried foul on Thursday over late-night TV comic Jay Leno writing his own jokes for his return to the air from an eight-week hiatus forced by the walkout.

The Writers Guild of America said the host of NBC's "The Tonight Show," who is a WGA member, violated union strike rules by preparing the monologue he delivered on Wednesday for his first new broadcast in two months which, like most other returning talk shows, saw a bounce in viewership.

Some 10,500 WGA members walked off the job on November 5 in a dispute with film and TV studios that hinges on disagreement how writers should be paid for work appearing on the Internet.

The Writers Guild has insisted that its members are barred from preparing scripted material for "struck productions," including their own shows in this case.

In his opening monologue, Leno said he was "on the side of the writers" but admitted writing his own jokes for the show. The guild immediately seized on the issue.

"A discussion took place today between Jay Leno and the Writers Guild to clarify to him that writing for 'The Tonight Show' constitutes a violation of the guild's strike rules," the union said in a terse statement.

Guild spokesman Neal Sacharow said WGA West President Patric Verrone talked with Leno over the phone.

"It was a very amicable conversation," Sacharow said. He denied that the talk amounted to a reprimand. "Jay's been a great supporter of the strike and very vocal in his support, so I think the discussion today was just about clarification."   Continued...

<p>File photo shows striking Writers Guild of America members carrying picket signs, including one protesting U.S. presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, in front of NBC studios in Burbank, California, Jan. 2, 2008. REUTERS/Phil McCarten</p>