PART II: The Writers Guild Of America acknowledges that its meeting with Jay Leno took place on December 31st but has significantly different details from NBC’s account of the confab with the WGA West president and other guild members. (See my previous, PART I: NBC Claims Jay Asked For & Received WGA Permission To Write Monologue At Secret Monday Meeting With Verrone.) “No, Patric Verrone did not say ‘We’re going to look the other way,’ I don’t recall him ever saying anything that could be construed as giving Jay the OK to write a monologue,” the spokesperson designated by the WGA to talk to me because he was at the meeting told me tonight. “NBC is trying to stir things up. I think they want to take the focus off their own refusal to bargain in good faith. And instead of having people aware of the real dispute, which is between NBC and the WGA, they want to put Jay Leno in the middle.”
According to the guild’s version of events, the confab described by NBC wasn’t about Jay’s monologue. The union told me that Jay Leno requested the meeting with WGAW president Patric Verrone in the wake of the WGA making an interim agreement with David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants to bring back The Late Show with his writers. Since NBC owns The Tonight Show, Jay can’t make the same deal so he was coming back without his writers. “The meeting was about his feeling that he was being mischaracterized as the bad guy for going back and doing the show. He wanted the guild to get the message out that he supported the writers. And we certainly agreed with that,” the insider told me.
Leno attended the meeting accompanied by his striking Tonight Show writers, “I think they came out of loyalty to Jay and hoping to see Jay’s concerns taken seriously by the guild and resolution found,” the source said.
“But it wasn’t until close to the end of the meeting, when we had gotten to the point where Jay understood our position was that we were not trying to make him look like a bad guy, that he said, “OK, I’m going to do the show, and I’m going to do my monologue.’ And what I think Patric said was, ‘You’re taking one for the team. And we understand that.’ ”
When I asked what was meant by “team”, the insider said, “For the guild.” And that was the end of the meeting.
But here’s what I can’t understand. Leno tells the WGA he’s going to do his monologue. And that doesn’t ring a bell for the guild members to ask him HOW he’s doing that monologue?
“In retrospect, it should have been clarified right then and there,” the WGA spokesperson admitted to me. “But the exchange came at the end of a long and difficult meeting and we were wrapping it up and it was one of the last exchanges in the meeting.”
It’s clear that, on Monday, the guild did not repeat the warning about “no monologues” which it had issued the day NBC announced that Leno and Conan O’Brien were going back on air. (See my previous, WGA Reminds Returning Jay And Conan: No Monologues.) But it’s also a he said/he said situation whether or not the guild actually gave Leno a pass on writing his monologue. “I don’t believe I heard Jay saying he was ‘writing’ his monologue. I thought I heard him say he was ‘doing’ his monologue,” the guild insider specified. The source added that he himself thought that Leno was going to ad-lib his signature standup opening and not write it because that would break his writers union’s strike rules.
Today both the WGA and NBC issued dueling statements after I posted here on Deadline Hollywood Daily that Jay admitted last night on the air during his first show back from strike hiatus that he had written his own monologue — an act tantamount to strike-breaking. First, the WGA said publicly 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 was told by the guild 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 “very clear” to him 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 credited writer and producer of the NBC-owned Tonight Show as well as host.)
Then, NBC complained publicly: “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.”
Said the WGA insider, “NBC is wrong. And we have made it clear.”
So tonight Leno performed his monologue again on The Tonight Show. Is the WGA going to investigate how Jay is preparing that standup routine?
What makes the situation so delicate is that the WGA perceives Leno as very supportive of striking writers. He’s been delivering food and drinks to the scribes walking the line for two months now. So the WGA, which has repeatedly made it clear it’s picketing NBC and not Leno, may not want to make an example of a high-profile member like Jay for breaking its strike rules. Earlier today, a WGA spokesman told me: “We are not interested in a battle here between Jay and the Guild,” and doubted there would be any probe. Now the WGA seems to be backing away from that position. “If our members decide that there’s been a violation of the strike rules, there is a procedure that will be followed,” the WGA insider told me.