URGENT: Writers Guild president Patric Verrone is going on air telling radio and TV media today that the union will go after member Jay Leno for writing his own monologues. This is a 180-degree turnaround from the guild’s position yesterday that it didn’t want a battle with the late night TV host over this issue. Verrone just appeared on Fox. But he told The Thom Hartmann Show on Air America this morning, ”Jay is a longtime member of the guild and we’ve known him a long time and it’s clear to us that [writing his monologue] is a violation of the rule. There are strike rules and we’re going to have to enforce them against him.” Strike-breaking is a serious issue for the WGA and its strike rules require members to report any activity in that realm. Discipline for violations of a strike can include expulsion, suspension, fines and censure.
Meanwhile, I’ve learned exclusively that one of the reasons that the WGA was going to give Leno a pass was a privately communicated threat by Jay to go “Fi-Core” — aka financial core status — with the writers union. This comes to me from unofficial WGA sources. Under Fi-Core, a writer gives up full membership in the guild and withholds dues spent on political activities in order to continue writing during the strike. WGA members who go fi-core can’t be disciplined for working during a strike. But they still receive all the WGA benefits. The reason why most guild writers don’t go Fi-Core even when they disagree with union decisions is more than just the osctracism factor among their colleagues. It’s because even dissident members know going Fi-Core jeopardizes writer benefits like salaries, residuals, healthcare etc which must be negotiated with Big Media. But the bad PR from having Leno go Fi-Core clearly is not what the WGA leadership wanted right now as the strike drags on into a third month and solidarity is still holding. It’ll be interesting to see whether, now that the union is going after him for writing his monologue, Jay carries out the Fi-Core threat.
I’ve also learned exclusively that Leno wasn’t the only late night host complaining to the guild. ABC’s late night host Jimmy Kimmel, like Leno a WGA member, also requested and received his own private meeting with Verrone and other WGA leaders to discuss his unhappiness. In fact, I’m told that Kimmel and Leno were in constant phone contact with one another over the controversial issue of the WGA granting an interim agreement to David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants so that rival Late Show could go back on air with its team of writers. This is a fast-breaking story so stay tuned.