Leno Faces Writers Guild Action Over Monologues
The restrictions that the striking Writers Guild of America has placed on late-night television hosts to keep them from writing material for their shows continued to have no impact on the leading late-night star, Jay Leno, who planned once again to write and perform a comedy monologue for NBC’s “Tonight Show” Friday night.
A spokeswoman said Friday that the guild would definitely take some action against Mr. Leno, who is a member.
“The answer is, he is not getting a pass,” said Sherry Goldman, a spokeswoman for the Writers Guild of America East. She said that the action to be taken had not yet been specified.
Patric M. Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America West, also pledged Friday that the guild would respond to Mr. Leno’s decision to continue writing his monologues.
Another impediment that the guild and its supporters have raised against the affected late-night shows — pressuring high-profile show business guests to avoid appearing on them — is proving to be a serious challenge for “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” on NBC, as well as “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on ABC.
All three shows have reported resistance from publicists for many of the guests that the shows typically book. All three declined to release their guest lists for next week’s shows.
“The bookings continue to be tough,” said a representative of one of the shows, who asked not to be identified so as not inflame the opposition from the guild. “Why should we announce guests and invite the guild to try to give cold feet to those people?”
Because David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants production company reached a separate interim agreement with the East and West Coast writers unions, “Late Show With David Letterman” on CBS has been able to return with writers and is starting to assert another advantage it expects to enjoy over the other shows: booking guests.
Since they will not have to cross a picket line to appear with Mr. Letterman or on “Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson” — the show that follows his on CBS, which Worldwide Pants also owns — much bigger stars are lining up for both shows.
The best example: For Monday Mr. Letterman has booked perhaps the most appealing late-night guest from the movie world, Tom Hanks, and also plans an appearance by Mike Huckabee, who just won the Republican presidential caucuses in Iowa. Mr. Letterman is also trying to land the Democratic winner, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, for Wednesday night.
Political guests, especially Democrats, may gravitate to Mr. Letterman and Mr. Ferguson because they will not have to antagonize labor unions to appear on those shows.
On Wednesday night Mr. Huckabee did turn up as the lead guest on Mr. Leno’s first show after two months off because of the strike, helping Mr. Leno to a dominant ratings win over Mr. Letterman. That was considered a coup for Mr. Leno because Mr. Letterman could use material from his writers, while Mr. Leno declared that he was able to write material for himself. The guild contends that he cannot.
The ratings margin did shrink on Thursday, the second night of strike-affected programming in late night. Yet Mr. Leno still won, drawing an estimated 5.2 million viewers to 4.6 million for Mr. Letterman. On Wednesday the numbers had been 7.2 million for Mr. Leno and 5.5 million for Mr. Letterman.
But in the narrower audience segment of viewers between the ages of 18 and 49, the primary group advertisers seek in late night, Mr. Leno’s edge was even smaller Thursday. In that group he had an advantage of just one-tenth of a rating point: a bit less than 2 million for Mr. Leno and slightly more than 1.8 million for Mr. Letterman.
Two other late-night entries are scheduled to rejoin the competition Monday. “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” with Stephen Colbert will both resume production on the Comedy Central cable channel. The shows have been seeking to make their own deal with the Writers Guild for an agreement similar to the one Worldwide Pants was able to reach.
The shows have contended in negotiations with the guild that they have just as much right to an agreement and that to deny them would amount to favoritism to Mr. Letterman. But as of Friday no deal had been made.
That meant those two shows remained subject to the guild’s restrictions on writing, though it was not yet clear how Mr. Leno’s defiance of the guild’s rules might affect what Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert, who like Mr. Leno are members of the writers guild, decide to present as comedy material.
Both those shows displayed the same caution about booking guests as the others subject to the strike. Neither released a planned guest list for the week.
In other strike news, the president of the Screen Actors Guild reiterated on Friday that members would not cross picket lines to appear on the Golden Globes awards show Jan. 13.
“There appears to be unanimous agreement that these actors will not cross W.G.A. picket lines to appear on the Golden Globes Awards as acceptors or presenters,” the president, Alan Rosenberg, said in a statement released after a meeting with some nominees on Friday.
The Golden Globes are scheduled to be shown on NBC, but the fate of the broadcast, and possibly the ceremony itself, remains unclear.