TV hosts Leno, O'Brien to return despite strike

Mon Dec 17, 2007 5:01pm EST
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Late-night TV comedians Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien said on Monday they will resume taping their shows on January 2, and cross picket lines if necessary, after nearly two months off the air in support of striking film and television writers.

With no end in sight to Hollywood's worst labor clash in 20 years, the hosts of NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" said they were returning for the sake of scores of co-workers idled by the strike.

Both will renew production and broadcasts without their writers, who presumably will still be on strike, NBC said.

"The Tonight Show" and "Late Night" were among the first and highest-profile casualties of the strike, going into immediate reruns when the Writers Guild of America launched its walkout against major film and TV studios on November 5 in a dispute hinging on money paid for Internet distribution.

Leno and O'Brien had resisted pressure from NBC to resume production even as ratings for reruns of their shows plunged. But earlier this month, negotiations to end the strike collapsed with both sides bitterly blaming the other.

"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," Leno said in a statement. "We fully support our writers and I think they understand my decision."

O'Brien said he, too, was acting for the good of his 80 non-writing employees, and acknowledged that his show "will not be as good" without his writing staff. "In fact, in moments it may very well be terrible," he wrote.

Leno, who replaced Johnny Carson as "Tonight Show" host in 1992, and O'Brien, who is slated to take Leno's place on the No. 1 U.S. late-night show in 2009, both said they continue to support the WGA, to which they both belong, and its cause.   Continued...

<p>Jim Shaughnessy (R on scooter), a writer for NBC's 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno', takes part in the picket line with other writers at NBC television network studios in Burbank, California November 5, 2007. Late-night TV hosts Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien plan to cross picket lines to resume taping shows on January 2, nearly two months after the Hollywood writers strike forced them off the air, the NBC network said on Monday. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>