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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two more late-night TV stars, political satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert of the Comedy Central cable network, said on Thursday they will go back to work next month despite the presumed continuance of the Hollywood writers strike.
Mock newscast "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and spinoff series "The Colbert Report" will resume broadcasts of all-new episodes on January 7, making their return without writing staffs unless the strike is settled by that time, the Viacom Inc-owned network said.
The announcement brings to five the number of late-night network talk shows that have set a definite return date after remaining in reruns since the Writers Guild of America launched its strike November 5 in a contract dispute with major studios.
NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" and ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" said earlier this week they would renew their shows, crossing picket lines if necessary, on January 2.
CBS late-night host David Letterman's production company, which owns his show, plans to meet with the Writers Guild on Friday to seek an "interim" deal that would allow him to come back next month with his writing staff intact.
Stewart and Colbert are returning a week later than the others due to a scheduled two-week, year-end hiatus previously built into their production calendars, Comedy Central said.
Like their NBC and ABC counterparts, Stewart and Colbert will have to make do without writers for the time being, as there is no end in sight to the strike.
But Stewart and Colbert face a tougher challenge because their shows rely much more on scripted material and conduct far fewer interviews than either Leno, O'Brien or Kimmel.
"It's a little bit of a trickier act for us than it is for those guys," Comedy Central spokesman Tony Fox told Reuters. But with Stewart's background as a stand-up comic and Colbert's as an improvisational actor, "one could certainly argue they have the skills to pull this off," Fox said.
Stewart and Colbert acknowledged their dilemma in a joint statement: "We would like to return to work with our writers. If we cannot, we would like to express our ambivalence, but without our writers, we are unable to express something as nuanced as ambivalence."
The late-night stars decided to break ranks with the WGA and return to work after contract talks collapsed again on December 7, dashing hopes for a quick settlement.
Fox said because both Stewart and Colbert are WGA members, they are barred from penning any material, even for themselves, that their staff writers would normally handle.
Each show employs about a dozen writers and a crew of about 100, all of whom the network has continued to pay, Fox said.
Stewart faces similar hurdles as he looks forward to his second stint as host of the Academy Awards in February.
The Writers Guild of America this week said it would refuse to grant a special waiver to allow producers of the Oscars, or the Golden Globes, to hire union writers for those shows.
Editing by Jill Serjeant and Todd Eastham