WGA STRIKE UPDATE: WGA, Leno at Odds Despite Quiet Monday Meeting

Writers Guild of America Reminds Talk-Show Host that He Isn’t Allowed to Write

NBC Universal and the Writers Guild of America were at odds Thursday over Jay Leno’s right to write and deliver jokes for his own monologue, even after the sides had quietly met Monday.

Jay Leno

According to an NBC insider, Leno and some of his writers met with WGA West president Patric Verrone Monday at WGA headquarters, where the Guild was informed that Leno would be writing and performing his own monologue.

However, the WGA then said it spoke to Leno Thursday to “clarify to him that writing for The Tonight Show constitutes a violation of the Guild’s strike rules."

So NBCU responded in a statement that it felt that the WGA agreement indeed allows Leno to do so.

“The WGA is not permitted to implement rules that conflict with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the studios and the WGA,” NBCU said in a statement.

During his monologue Wednesday on the first night back on the air since the strike began, Leno told an array of jokes that he said he wrote himself.

The show’s Web site also featured a comment from a viewer saying: "I really enjoyed your show tonight. Maybe you should do all of your writing all of the time."

Leno returned in his capacity as host, but he is not supposed to write any of his material. The WGA had warned previously that it considered hosts writing and performing their own jokes a violation of its strike rules.

It remains to be seen how much the WGA will press Leno, who has been a strong backer of the writers both on- and off-camera.

But it is a very visible front, as the late-night world in general is currently getting a disproportionate amount of media attention. Late-night and the upcoming Golden Globe Awards are two of the strike-influenced situations that are seeing some actual movement as the strike has largely settled into just a battle of rhetoric between the sides.

Leno, NBC’s Conan O’Brien and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel all returned to the air Wednesday night without writers, as all three host shows are owned by the struck companies for which they work.

David Letterman and Craig Ferguson returned with writers thanks to the deal between Worldwide Pants and the WGA. Letterman’s production company owns both shows.

While fast nationals are still pending, the metered-market ratings indicated that the curiosity factor of working without writers gave Leno (5.3) a solid win over Letterman (4.3) Wednesday night.

For full coverage of the strike, click here.