NBC informed the nonwriting staff of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno that it will be laid off at the end of this week in the wake of the show shutting down for the writers' strike.
With Leno refusing to cross the picket line, another option would be to come back Nov. 19 with guest hosts so that it can save the jobs of the nonwriters.
“All sorts of things are being discussed, including guest hosts,” Tonight Show executive producer Debbie Vickers said. “Our preference is that we return to production of The Tonight Show with Jay as host as soon as possible.”
The same timetable has been given to the staff of NBC's Late Night With Conan O'Brien. That show's nonwriters also face layoffs at the end of this week.
But Vickers also wants to save the jobs of her nonwriting staffers.
“We want to protect the staff, who have been loyal to this show for decades, in the same way that Johnny Carson reluctantly returned without his writers in 1988,” she said.
Late-night shows have gone into repeats since the strike began Monday as the hosts walked out in solidarity with their writing staffs.
With the shows shut down, networks can cut costs by laying off most of the rest of the staff.
And Leno's chief writer doesn't expect Leno back anytime soon.
“I talk to Jay every day, and he will not be the first [late-night host] to cross the picket line,” said Tonight Show head writer Joe Medeiros, also a strike captain for the Writers Guild of America. “So they are looking at guest hosts as one possibility so all those people don't have to lose their jobs.”
Medeiros on Friday expressed anger at NBC for pulling the plug on the staff so quickly.
“This is the way that NBC treats the No. 1 late-night talk show that makes them $50 million a year and has been No. 1 for 12 years?” he said, noting that NBC even turned off his NBC e-mail account.
Even prior to the strike taking effect, many knew that the nonwriting late-night show staff members from all networks would probably begin to see layoffs within two to three weeks if their hosts did not resume their on-air duties.
The hosts are compelled to return without their writing staffs to save the jobs of all of the nonwriters, who can number more than 100 per show.
There is precedent for hosts to come back sans writers, as Johnny Carson and David Letterman both did during the 1988 strike.
Medeiros also spoke in animated fashion about NBC's decision to replace Leno with Conan O'Brien in 2009.
“And all this after they already kicked the man out the door,” Medeiros said.
CBS has already said that The Late Show With David Letterman will remain in repeats the week of Nov. 12.
ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live continues to run in repeats, as its host has backed the writers not only by stepping aside, but even driving a taco truck around to picket sites in Los Angeles. Leno has also been a constant presence at picketing around town.