2ND UPDATE: NBC has just issued the following statement. “The WGA agreement permits Jay Leno to write his own monologue for The Tonight Show. The WGA is not permitted to implement rules that conflict with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the studios and the WGA.” This is not what the WGA claims its Minimum Basic Agreement provisions say. It sounds like NBC wants a war with the WGA over Leno.
EXCLUSIVE: It sure seems like Jay Leno will now be free to perform his nightly Tonight Show monologue. That’s because I’ve learned that the Writers Guild Of America has decided quietly not to go to war with its prominent member. “We are not interested in a battle here between Jay and the Guild,” a WGA insider just told me. Earlier today, the WGA made a public statement that “a discussion took place today between Jay Leno and the Writers Guild to clarify to him that writing for The Tonight Show constitutes a violation of the Guilds’ strike rules.” I’m told that Leno explained to the WGA he thought he was following the WGA rules because of a provision in the Guild’s so-called “Minimum Basic Agreement” that allows for a performer to write for himself. But then the union made clear that the pact also clearly states that this provision does not apply to a Guild member who also happens to employed on the show as a writer. (Leno is both a writer and producer of The Tonight Show which is owned by NBC.) Leno admitted last night on the air during his first show back from strike hiatus that he wrote his own monologue. But Leno’s “explanation” for breaking strike rules sounds conveniently disingenuous to me considering that Jay has an army of lawyers to ensure no such confusion. Now get this: I’m told Leno can “ad-lib” his monologue. He just can’t “write” his monologue. Huh?
Meanwhile, early ratings for late night TV’s return show that Jay scored a 5.3 rating and 12 audience share in the nation’s 55 largest markets for his best ratings in two years, according to Nielsen Media Research. Leno’s ratings were up 47% over what he achieved before the strike. David Letterman’s Late Show had a 4.3 rating and 10 share, or 39% better than his pre-strike average. I don’t find this surprising, since Leno had been consistently beatting Letterman for years and TV viewing habits don’t change overnight. Plus, there was the “car wreck” phenomenon at work and audiences may have wanted to watch how The Tonight Show would fare without writers.
But Leno knows full well he could lose viewers if he stops his topical monologue (which is what Conan O’Brien appeared to do last night). But if Jay keeps doing his signature stand-up opening, that immediately levels the playing field with Letterman whose production company Worldwide Pants, which owns The Late Show and the Late Late Show took great pains to obtain a WGA interim agreement in order to come back on the air with an intact writing team. It sure looks like Jay will have the last laugh at the union’s expense.
(This updates my previous two posts, Leno Sounds Like He Broke Strike Rules, and its update, WGA “Clarifies” To Leno That He Broke Strike Rules; Jay Wins Ratings.)