Who Will Watch Leno, Conan Sans Writers? Uh, Everyone.

Now that NBC is bringing back Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien to late-night TV, comedy-starved viewers will flock back to their TVs, right? Adage’s Brian Steinberg isn’t so sure — or at least the media researchers he talks to aren’t.

Magna Global’s Steve Sternberg grudgingly allows that some viewers may return “particularly when there are strong guests.” Carat’s Shari Ann Brill laments “we’ll be missing a lot of jokes about the coming election.” We love Shari and Brian, but clearly the strike has taken its toll on them, too — this one’s a no-brainer.

The return of Leno, Conan, (and likely Letterman, Stewart and Colbert), will be huge, and the shows will deliver numbers well above season averages. They’ll get big promotion from the network — who will have little else to promote. And who wouldn’t want to see Letterman/Leno cope with a script-less highwire act, at least initially?

For the writers it’s a mixed blessing. Leno, Letterman, et al, are big union sympathizers and will use their shows as soapboxes for the writer’s cause. On the other hand, the writers still aren’t working while the networks cut their losses.

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