Tuned In

Strike Watch: Conan to Come Back

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Your daily roundup of strike-related bummers, which actually begins with a bit of kinda good news:

* Conan O’Brien just announced that he’s returning to the air, sans writers, Jan. 2; reports have been predicting a wholesale return of talk shows around that time, so this may be the first of a flurry of announcements today. [UPDATE: Ding! No sooner did I hit post than Jay Leno made the same announcement.] From Conan’s press release:

For the past seven weeks of the writers’ strike, I have been and continue to be an ardent supporter of the WGA and their cause. My career in television started as a WGA member and my subsequent career as a performer has only been possible because of the creativity and integrity of my writing staff. Since the strike began, I have stayed off the air in support of the striking writers while, at the same time, doing everything I could to take care of the 80 non-writing staff members on Late Night.

Unfortunately, now with the New Year upon us, I am left with a difficult decision. Either go back to work and keep my staff employed or stay dark and allow 80 people, many of whom have worked for me for fourteen years, to lose their jobs. If my show were entirely scripted I would have no choice. But the truth is that shows like mine are hybrids, with both written and non-written content. An unwritten version of Late Night, though not desirable, is possible – and no one has to be fired.

So, it is only after a great deal of thought that I have decided to go back on the air on January 2nd. I will make clear, on the program, my support for the writers and I’ll do the best version of Late Night I can under the circumstances. Of course, my show will not be as good. In fact, in moments it may very well be terrible. My sincerest hope is that all of my writers are back soon, working under a contract that provides them everything they deserve.

* At least one late-night host may be coming back with benefit of a writing staff. David Letterman–who has the advantage of owning his own production company–is said to be negotiating a separate interim deal with the WGA to get his writers back to work.

* Speaking of separate peaces, several people have asked why the writers don’t deal individually with networks and studios, like the UAW does with automakers. Now the writers are asking the same question, offering to cut separate deals, in the hope of dividing and conquering the divide-and-conquerers. So far, the producers are continuing to band together under the auspices of the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers, although Nikki Finke poses the interesting question of whether this raises antitrust issues.

* Failing a settlement, some writers are looking to sell their own work online.

* Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune’s Maureen Ryan–who was just on the jury of the American Film Institute’s TV awards–files a report from LA on the strike. One entertainment lawyer predicts it’ll be a month or two before the two sides even bargain again. Happy holidays!