DAVID BIANCULLI

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ERIC GOULD

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Wait Till Next Year: In 13 Days, Late-Night Talk Shows Return
December 20, 2007  | By David Bianculli
 
That's when Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien will return with new shows on NBC, and Jimmy Kimmel will return on ABC - all without their writing staffs. That's also the day, reportedly, that the CBS shows owned by David Letterman's Worldwide Pants, Late Show with David Letterman and Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, are hoping to return, with their writing staffs.

However, the special dispensation that would allow that special deal to be negotiated - predicated, in part, on the fact that Letterman, not a network, owns those late-night talk shows - may be at risk because of the most tiny, and ironic, of complications.

While Worldwide Pants owns broadcast rights to its talk shows, CBS owns the digital rights. And since digital rights, and writers' fair compensation for them, are a major sticking point in the WGA negotiations with network and studio heads, that may be more of a mountain than a molehill to traverse.

kimmel.jpg

Either way, now that Kimmel has set his return date, the second day of 2008 has become the official start of the mid-strike late-night battle. It's not a battle the Letterman camp, or the Ferguson camp, will want to miss - whether or not they can negotiate an advantage by having their writers return with them.

And prime time is awakening from hibernation that day, too. NBC, for example, is bringing back its longest-running series, Law & Order. Originally, holding back episodes of that venerable Dick Wolf series until midseason was seen as a slap in the face. Now, with the majority of scripted shows shelved for the duration of the strike, it seems almost... fortunate.

NBC will be sure to promote the returns of Leno and O'Brian heavily during Law & Order that night. Also on that first Wednesday in January, ABC is returning with fresh episodes of Wife Swap and Supernanny, and will be promoting Kimmel during then just as aggressively.

If Worldwide Pants gets its way, CBS will have the return of Drew Carey's Power of 10 to help pump its own late-night schedule.

The quandaries, complications and contradictions in all this are everywhere. Shows returning without writers are providing displays of WGA solidarity, yet also helping the networks avoid reruns during one of their most lucrative broadcast dayparts. Shows returning with writers, even with WGA approval, are adding to their network's coffers just as much, and erasing one very visible side effect of the strike.

Writers can claim victory by not returning to some shows, and negotiating favorable terms for others. Hosts can claim victory by looking out for their staff members, and returning to TV under whatever circumstances they could control. And the networks can claim victory by getting their late-night flagship stars back on the air, even as the strike continues.

The clear winner in this particular battle? The viewers. In less than two weeks, we'll get to hear jokes from these guys again - at a time, politically as well as emotionally, when it's very sorely needed.

 
 
 
 
 
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