Jokes in short supply as talk show hosts return

Tue Jan 1, 2008 11:37am EST
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The storied rivalry between Jay Leno and David Letterman takes a new twist on Wednesday when the two stars of U.S. late-night television return to the air two months into a bitter strike by TV and film writers.

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

That agreement, announced last week, enables Letterman to return with a full complement of monologue jokes and comedy bits, including his nightly Top 10 List, and makes it easier for him to book guests who otherwise might have balked at crossing picket lines to appear.

Leno will not have his writing team back and could face trouble getting celebrity guests who are members of the Screen Actors Guild.

On Monday, CBS announced the first guest on "Late Show with David Letterman" would be actor Robin Williams, followed the next night by Ellen Page, the Canadian star of the art-house movie hit "Juno."

NBC's "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" has so far announced only Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee as its first guest.

The two shows were thrown into immediate reruns when the WGA went on strike against major studios on November 5. The contract dispute, Hollywood's worst labor clash in 20 years, has hinged on disagreement over how writers should be paid for work distributed over the Internet.

Leno, Letterman and other late-night stars resisted pressure to renew production for weeks, even as ratings for reruns of their shows plunged. They began planning to return when talks to end the walkout collapsed on December 7.   Continued...

<p>David Letterman at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles September 18, 2005. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith</p>