Producers for late night hosts David Letterman, Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien are in secret talks to bring the shows back as early as Dec. 3, Variety reports. Network execs say there’s talk of resuming production on the shows without the writers, in part to keep the hundreds of idled non-writing employees working — and in part because all three shows are huge money-makers for their networks. Note that Letterman did the same thing during the 1988 writers’ strike.
The return of the late-night shows would be a huge coup for the networks; right now the absence of those shows (along with Viacom’s Daily Show and Colbert Report) are the only visible sign that a writers’ strike is underway. If the writers lose that bargaining chip, most viewers won’t feel the impact of a strike until January or later, when the networks run out of new dramas and sitcoms to air.
The backchannel talks between latenight producers are delicate; no one wants to be the first to go back on the air, nor do they want to return if a resolution to the strike is imminent. Any return to work before the strike ends would likely mean big WGA-led protests at NBC studios in Burbank and at the Ed Sullivan theatre in New York. But if it appears the strike is going to drag on, Letterman and Leno would agree to resume their shows on the same day.
Letterman, whose production company WorldWide Pants owns both the Late Show and the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, said yesterday he will pay partial salaries to all staff through the duration of the strike. NBC, which owns the Leno and O’Brien shows, has told the staffs of those two shows that they will be paid at least for the next two weeks.