Leno, Ignoring Union's Protest, Writes His Monologue
By Andy Fixmer
Jan. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Jay Leno, host of NBC's ``The Tonight Show,'' ignored protests from the Writers Guild of America, to which he belongs, and for a second night performed a monologue on the program that he wrote himself.
The guild said it met with Leno yesterday following his Jan. 2 show reiterating rules issued before the two-month-old strike that forbid members to perform writing duties, even for themselves. NBC said Leno is abiding by union regulations.
The union and Hollywood studios are split over writers' demands to be paid for use of their work on the Web and mobile devices. Since the collective bargaining agreement with the studios and broadcasters expired Oct. 31, the guild can legally issue more restrictive policies, said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment attorney at Troy Gould in Los Angeles.
``Can the guild discipline Leno and fine him?,'' Handel said. ``If their interpretation of the rules is correct, then yes, they can. They probably have the right, if they want, to a more severe punishment'' than what is outlined in the bargaining agreement, he said.
WGA spokesman Neal Sacharow said the guild is confident that its meeting with Leno will clear up any misunderstanding about what is and isn't a violation of the strike rules.
``Leno has always been employed as a writer on the show,'' Sacharow said in an interview yesterday. ``He can't perform his own material.''
WGA spokesman Gregg Mitchell declined to comment on whether the union would take any further action with the comedian.
No Outside Help
The guild may have a tough time when it comes to disciplining Leno, who supports the strike. He walked picket lines and paid non-writing staff with his own money when NBC laid off employees after the strike shut down production.
Guild officials ``have to be seen doing something and talking with him is about the most they can do,'' Handel said.
Leno told his Jan. 2 audience that it's OK to write his own material and that he didn't use outside writers to help write any of his jokes. He performed another self-written monologue on last night's program.
``The WGA agreement permits Jay Leno to write his own monologue for `The Tonight Show,''' NBC spokeswoman Tracy St. Pierre said in an e-mail yesterday. ``The WGA is not permitted to implement rules that conflict with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the studios and the WGA.''
Negotiations between the guild and the studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, broke down a second time Dec. 7 and haven't resumed.
David Letterman, Leno's late-night rival on CBS, reached agreement with the union last week that allows comedy writers to work on his ``Late Show'' and Craig Ferguson's ``Late Late Show,'' which he also owns.
Even without writers, Leno extended his streak of ratings victories over Letterman on Jan. 2. ``The Tonight Show'' averaged 7.2 million viewers, compared with 5.5 million for Letterman's ``Late Show,'' CBS said yesterday, citing data from Nielsen Media Research.
General Electric Co., the parent of NBC, fell 37 cents to $36.43 at 9:54 a.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. CBS Corp., owner of the most-watched television network, fell 40 cents to $25.49.
To contact the reporter on this story: Andy Fixmer in Los Angeles at firstname.lastname@example.org