Leno has chosen to honor the strikers’ picket lines and has not returned to work at his show since the strike began on Monday, November 5th. NBC has been running reruns since then, as has the Late Show with David Letterman.
According to Debbie Vickers, the Leno show’s executive producer, NBC wants Leno to return “as soon as possible.”
“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,” said Vickers. The 1988 strike lasted 22 weeks.
But the staff is not the only thing NBC wants to protect. Prior to the strike, the Tonight Show beat Letterman in the ratings on a regular basis, earning NBC about $50 million per year in the process.
Since the strike began, however, the Letterman show has siphoned off about 750,000 homes and has beat Tonight in the ratings twice this week.
Because NBC is concerned about losing even more viewers, it has been reportedly pressuring Leno to cross the picket lines.
Vickers has admitted that NBC is even considering returning to production without Leno, using a guest host instead.
Ellen DeGeneres, on the other hand, has been crossing the picket lines to film her syndicated talk show since one day after the strike began. DeGeneres picketed with the strikers the first day, but went back to work after that.
The Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), has criticized DeGeneres for going back to work instead of supporting the strikers.
The WGAE, in a press release, claimed that DeGeneres was not supporting her writers and was violating strike rules.
WGAE said, “Ellen has…been performing comedy on her show. Even if Ellen is writing those segments herself, since those segments would normally be written by the writers on strike, she’s performing ‘struck work’. Ellen is violating the strike rules that were clearly explained to all of the comedy/variety shows.”
Ellen’s producer, Telepictures Productions, countered, “as a syndicated show, the individual stations control when the show airs. If Telepictures does not deliver original episodes of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the stations can move the show out of its time periods, or ultimately hold the company in breach of contract.
“Telepictures provides first run programming to stations they don’t control. The network controls their own schedule and programming with the late night shows as Leno, Conan, Kimmel etc.”
If the strike continues, you can rest assured that the rhetoric will only heat up.