Talks are underway to bring the laughs back to latenight.
Reps for several of the major latenight skeins — including “Late Show with David Letterman,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien”— have been engaging in secret backchannel conversations with each other about when it might be appropriate for their hosts to return to their studios. It’s unlikely anything will happen until after Thanksgiving, however–and even that could be optimistic.
Still, according to several network execs with knowledge of the situation, there’s been talk of resuming production on some shows as early as next month, with Dec. 3 and Dec. 10 mentioned as possible return dates.
The problem with locking in a date: “Nobody wants to be the first to go back,” says one wag.
What’s more, nobody wants to go back too early, particularly if it appears a settlement of the strike could be at hand. But with most of Hollywood bracing for an extended work stoppage, producers have been forced to start talking about a return.
Toward that end, reps for the major broadcast network shows–but not the networks themselves– have been quietly feeling each other out, trying to determine when might be the appropriate time to return to work. All the major latenight talkers have been dark since the WGA strike began Nov. 5.
Since none of the shows wants to be the first to return to production, the behind-the-scenes conversations seem to be aimed at reaching an informal agreement that would result in at least two shows from separate networks returning on the same date.
While Letterman, Leno and O’Brien all want to be respectful of their writers, they’re also deeply concerned about the impact of a prolonged strike on their non-WGA staffs.
NBC, for example, had told producers on its latenight shows that it would only continue paying staffs through Nov. 16 (Daily Variety, Nov. 7).
Producers of the Peacock shows lobbied the net to keep the paychecks coming, however, and late Thursday, the network agreed. Staffers on Leno and O’Brien’s shows, along with those on “Last Call with Carson Daly,” will be paid for at least two more weeks, a network spokeswoman said.
Letterman, whose Worldwide Pants Prods. is solely responsible for staffer salaries on “Late Show” and “Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” has told staffers they’re not going to be cut off. Company will “continue to pay the non-writing staff of the shows – fully compensating lower-salaried employees, and providing a substantial portion of salaries for those at the higher end — at least through the end of the year,” a Worldwide Pants spokesman said.